This a reprint of a Post I published on LinkedIn a year ago. Many enjoyed it. In light of all that’s going on in the world, I thought it was more than a familial memoir or ‘reminder’. I hope it would serve as a reminder to us all: the protestors, the venters, the polarizing, the ‘freedom of free speechers’- all of our Freedoms in the USA were NOT free. Whether you are new or old to the good ol’ USofA, whether you are able to vote or not, it all came with a price. Someone died for this freedom and others continue to fight for it. Remember that before your next Twitter rant. – C. Nor
Memorial Day. More salute, less sauce please.
There’s a reason why I only now write about my Grandfather and speak to elementary students about these WWII heroes (my son also does presentations). One reason is that this generation rarely spoke about their accomplishments. I am amazed at the WWII, official Navy photos and memorabilia that surfaced only after his death in 2001. Some call them the “Greatest Generation” and that may be true. I don’t know about that given title as every generation produces “Greats”; however, what I do know is they weren’t as self-obsessed as we are today nor a self-promoting generation. Now that is true.
While we knew Captain Joseph Grant Smith aka “Capt. Joe” and to grandchildren as “Granddad”, was a highly accomplished Navy pilot, there were few instances of talking about himself at all. He spoke more about his friends, was busy entertaining their many former colleagues, and talking to his sons and grandchildren about hard work and life (which to youth means ‘lecturing’ and translates into, “Just give me the keys to the boat, Granddad”).
This is a pilot who recorded over 9,000 hours of flying time with 6,000 of them in the military. He could fly over 265 different types of airplanes. During his time in WWII, he received the Naval Cross for his combat role in the Battle of the Coral Sea and was one of the few planes finally launched from the burning and sinking USS Lexington. Also a test pilot, he lived in Farnborough, England from 1949-1950 while working with the Royal Air Force. He was the first American to win the McKenna Trophy for his test pilot work.
He held degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Aero Engineering and the two years before he retired, got a Masters in International Affairs. In 1965, while CO of the USS Intrepid, he picked up Gemini 3 with astronauts Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom and John Young.
Pretty darn super cool stuff. Certainly enough to brag about. I’m sure someone would “Tweet” about that today. Maybe.
When I speak to young students about my grandfather, they love to hear ‘stories’. They are impressed with the awards and titles, but I can tell they love the details and nuances that make a person’s life even more endearing.
Details such as…
You know how we just trash or recycle a toaster after a couple years? Nope. Not Capt. Joe. Back then, this generation ‘fixed things’ themselves. Toaster not working? “Here. Give it to me” and he’s striding off to his fully stocked garage and for some reason I still picture a million mayonnaise jars with bolts and nails.
Every Christmas they put up a gingerbread house and every kid in the neighborhood could come in and enjoy these large homemade gingerbread and Santa cookies. He knew how to break a horse and cut off half of his first toe with a lawn mower. He mowed his own lawn. Does anyone do that anymore?
This was the generation that emerged from the Depression. They didn’t waste a bit of food, paid cash for a new house, car, everything. I remember finding one spoon of left-over mashed potatoes in small tupperware in the refrigerator. Only later did they have credit cards. And if I told him how much I pay for coffee at Starbucks, he would rise again and choke me.
They saved. They had no debts. And trust me, they amassed property like a woman collects shoes: waterfronts in Virginia, New York, California etc. as they lived in 32 different places during his active career.
I never saw a luxury car. They loved their Jeep Wagoneers. Remember those? He obviously loved speed, but didn’t need to show it. Part of me thinks and laughs, “When you know how to fly Lincoln II 4 engine heavy bombers, Spitfires, Vampire I & V jet fighters and your name’s painted on your plane — who needs the ego of a Porsche?” Certainly not Granddad.
I loved that about him. Cool, calm, and quiet about it all — that’s the WWII generation to me.
Today we honor all the men AND women that served and sacrificed for our country and its Freedom. I acknowledge and thank my Grandfather and the many who sacrificed their lives for us.
My advice to the younger generations and to those with grandparents still alive: sit down, listen to their stories, collect those photos and memorabilia. Cherish them. It’s a wonderful lesson for your children to pass on to future generations. Although I spent a lot of time and holidays with my grandparents, when they are gone, you realize, “it was never enough time.”
America cannot forget these generations and what they fought and died for. And it’s not just our BBQs and paid holidays that depend on it.