The Name Within the Stone
On Living with the Loss of a Son in Wartime.
My title, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve by no means met anyone else with the same title. I know about one other man with my title, however we’ve by no means met. I’ve seen his title in an unusual place. That is the story of how that occurred.
It was an August Sunday in New York City in 1975. I’d determined to bicycle from my residence on East 86th and York to Battery Park on the southern tip of the island. I’d nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since shifting to the town in 1974, it appeared like a vacation spot that can be attention-grabbing. Just how fascinating, I had no method of understanding once i left.
August Sundays in New York could be the best occasions for town. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their shoppers and most of the opposite professional classes. The town seems virtually deserted, the traffic light and, as you progress down into Wall Road and the surrounding areas, it turns into just about non-existent. On a bicycle you personal the streets that kind the underside of the slim canyons of buildings the place, even at mid-day, it continues to be cool with shade. You then emerge from the streets into the brilliant open house at Battery Park.
Tourists are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Just a few people are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of people on the lawns of Battery Park. Every little thing is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way in which right down to the Battery that day since, despite the fact that it appears to be flat, there may be a very slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and bought one of many dubious Sabaretts hot canine and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
We were in the midst of what now will be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over all the things, thought of, in the event that they have been thought of at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off a lot of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was just about on the midway level between two world wars. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. The only struggle we knew of was the Second World War and the background humm of the Chilly Warfare. It was a summer Sunday and we have been within the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.”
In entrance of the lawns at Battery Park was a monument that caught my consideration. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 ft vast, 20 toes tall and 3 toes thick. From a distance you could possibly see that they’d words carved into them from prime to backside. There casquette stone island pas cher was additionally a variety of shade between them so I took my hot canine and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the monoliths.
I do not forget that the stone was cool against my back as I sat there wanting at the stone throughout from me on that heat afternoon. As I appeared up it dawned on me that the phrases cut into the stones were all names. Just names. The names of troopers, sailors and airmen who had met their demise within the north Atlantic in WWII. I used to be to study later that there were 4,601 names. All misplaced within the frigid waters, all without any marker for his or her graves — besides these in the hearts of those they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up round me.
I learn throughout several rows, transferring proper to left, then down a row, after which right to left. I received to the top of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
Initially of the seventh row, I read the title: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My title. Lower into the stone amongst a tally of the useless.
If you have an unusual title, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in an inventory of the useless on a summer Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling except to know that, for many long moments, I grew to become chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my name was within the stone. I’d at all times known why, but I’d never recognized in regards to the stone or the names cut into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, in fact, not me. He was another person completely. Somebody who had been born, lived, and died earlier than I was even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s center brother. He was what my family had given to cease Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide within the Second World Struggle. He was one among their three sons. He was dead earlier than he was 22 years outdated. His physique by no means recovered, the exact time and place of his dying over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was all the time known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” just isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the primary little one born after his dying, I used to be given his title, Gerard. However as a child I was by no means referred to as by that name. I was always known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” will not be a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that title. But “Jerry” I can be as a result of the mere point out of the identify “Gerard” was sufficient to send my grandmother right into a dark mind-set that might final for weeks. This was true, so far as I know, for all the days of her life and she lived well into her 80s.
My grandfather may barely speak of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was fallacious to ask.
My father, who was refused service within the Second World Conflict resulting from a bout of rheumatic fever as a child that left him with the heart murmur that might kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t combat and wouldn’t converse of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was an awesome, brave kid.”
My uncle, the baby of the household, spent a year or two of his youth freezing on the Inchon peninsula in Korea and seeing the worst of that conflict first hand. He was my only dwelling relative who’d been in a struggle. He would never speak of his war in any respect, however it should have been very bad certainly.
… a helmet shot filled with holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it…
I do know this as a result of, when I used to be a teenager, I was out in his garage one day and, opening a drawer, I discovered an previous packet of images, grimy with mud on the back beneath a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white photographs with tough perforated edges showed some very disturbing issues: a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it, some crumpled heaps of clothes on patches of soiled snow that proved to be, on nearer inspection, lifeless Korean soldiers; a pile of bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The complete horror present.
My uncle had taken them and couldn’t part with them. At the identical time he couldn’t take a look at them. So he shoved them into a drawer with different unused junk from his previous and left it at that. He by no means spoke of Korea besides to say it was “rough,” and, casquette stone island pas cher now that he has quit speaking of anything, he by no means will. His solely remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was an excellent kid. You may be proud to have his title. Just don’t use it around Grandma.”
And that i didn’t. No one in my family ever did. All by means of the years that I used to be rising up at residence, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left residence for the College and, in the style of young males within the 1960s and since, I got here upon lots of recent and, to my young thoughts, glorious ideas. A minor one of these was that it was time to cease being a ‘Jerry’ — a reputation I associated for some cause with younger men with purple hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I decided that I would reject my family’s preferences and call myself by my given identify, ‘Gerard.’ In truth, within the callous manner of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I might insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my dad and mom and would right them when they lapsed back to ‘Jerry.’
This angle served me properly sufficient and soon it appeared I had educated my bothers and my parents in my new name. Of course, I’d taken this identify not due to who my uncle had been or due to the trigger for which he gave his life, but for the selfish cause that it simply sounded extra “dignified” to my ears.
I used to be a pupil on the University of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US military that was “brutally repressing” the individuals of Vietnam. We have been stupid and younger and nothing that has occurred at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its students. If something, my era on the University just made it in some way potential for Berkeley college students to assume that their attitudes have been as noble and as pure of their minds as they have been silly and egocentric in reality. I was no longer a “Jerry” however a “Gerard” and I used to be going to make the world protected from America.
“Would you want some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
My name change plan went nicely as long as I confined it to my instant family and my pals on the University. It went so nicely that it made me even stupid sufficient to attempt to increase it to my grandparents throughout a Thanksgiving at their residence.
At some point in the course of the meal, my grandmother mentioned one thing like, “Would you want some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
And because I used to be a very egocentric and stupid young man, I looked at her and stated, “Grandma, everybody here knows that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just received to get used to calling me that.”
Immediately, the silence came into the room. It rose out of the center of the table and expanded till it reached the walls after which just dropped down over the room like a large, darkish shroud.
Nobody moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family got here round and looked at me. Not indignant, however just wanting. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes were wet, rose from the desk and stated, “No. I can’t try this. I just can’t.” She left the table and walked down the hallway to her bedroom and closed the door behind her.
The silence compounded itself until my grandfather rose from his chair and walked to the center of the hallway. He took a framed photograph off the wall the place hung subsequent to a framed gold star. It had been in that place so lengthy that I’d stopped seeing it.
“Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked again to the table and really gently handed me the photograph. It showed a smooth-confronted handsome younger flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather flying jacket and leaning casually towards the fuselage of a bomber. You can see the clear plastic within the nose of the aircraft just above his head to his proper. On the picture, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I checked out the picture. “You aren’t Gerard. You just have his name, but you aren’t him. That’s my son. He’s Gerard. If you happen to don’t mind, we’ll continue to call you Jerry on this home. If you happen to do thoughts, you wouldn’t have to come right here any extra.”
Then he took the picture away and put it back in its place on the wall. He knocked on the bedroom door, went in, and in a few minutes he and my grandmother got here again to the table. No person else had mentioned a word. We’d simply sat there. I was wishing to be just about anyplace else on the planet than the place I was.
They sat down and my grandmother stated, “So, Jerry, would you want some more creamed onions ”
I nodded, they had been handed and the meal went on. My parents by no means said a word. Not then and never after. And, to their credit score, they continued to name me Gerard. However not at my grandparents’ house.
A decade handed.
In 1975, I leaned towards a monument in Battery Park in New York and browse a reputation minimize into stone among a listing of the useless. That way back Thanksgiving scene came again to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to know what that name within the stone had meant to my household when it turned the only factor that remained of their center son; a man who’d been swallowed up within the Atlantic during a struggle that completed before I drew breath.
I tried to understand what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and dad and mom, but I couldn’t. I used to be a toddler of the lengthy peace who had avoided his war and gone on to make a life that, in some ways, was spent taking-down the things that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I used to be thirty then and not yet a parent. That will come a couple of years later and, with the delivery of my daughter, I might finally start, however solely begin, to grasp.
Immediately it makes me really feel low-cost and contemptible to think about the things I did in my youth to level out all the ways in which this nation fails to realize some fantasied perfection. I used to be a small a part of promulgating a great improper and a big lie for a very long time, and I’m positive there’s no making up for Stone Island Outlet that. My probability to be worthy of the man in the photograph, the name on the wall, has long since handed and all I can do is to try, in some way, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Lengthy War, I nonetheless cannot declare to know the deep sense of duty and the robust feeling of honor that drove males like the uncle I’ve by no means known to sacrifice themselves. These days though, as we transfer deeper into the Fourth World Struggle, I think that, finally, I can in some way dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to present “the final full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, will have to do.
Since discovering his identify on the stone in 1975, I’ve been again to that place quite a few instances. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September eleventh, I made a point of going to the monument as quickly as the way was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the final time.
However when you go the monument immediately, you possibly can nonetheless see the name within the stone. It’s not my title, but the name of a man much better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the best facet of the monument looking towards the sea. The title is often in shadow and nearly unattainable to photograph.
Like most of the opposite names carved into the stone it’s up there very excessive. You’ll be able to see it, however you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you’re, you’re not that tall.