My identify, “Gerard Van der Leun, is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve by no means met anyone else with the same identify. I find out about one other man with my identify, but we’ve never met. I’ve seen his identify 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 decided to bicycle from my residence on East 86th and York to Battery Park at the southern tip of the island. I’d nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since transferring to the city in 1974, it seemed like a destination that would be fascinating. Simply how interesting, I had no means of knowing after i left.
August Sundays in New York will be the very best occasions for the city. The psychotherapists are all on vacation as are their purchasers and most of the opposite skilled classes. Town appears almost deserted, the traffic mild and, as you progress down into Wall Street and the encircling areas, it turns into just about non-existent. On a bicycle you own the streets that form the bottom of the slim canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it continues to be cool with shade. Then you definitely emerge from the streets into the bright open area at Battery Park.
Tourists are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A number of 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 part is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way right down to the Battery that day since, though 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 got one of the dubious Sabaretts hot dogs and a chilled coke from the only vendor working the park.
The twin towers loomed over all the pieces, thought of, in the event that they have been considered at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off so much of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was nearly on the midway point between two world wars. In fact, we didn’t know that at the time. The only struggle we knew of was the Second World Conflict and the background humm of the Cold Conflict. It was a summer time Sunday and we have been in the midst of what now will be seen as “The Long Peace. /p>
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 wide, 20 ft tall and 3 ft thick. From a distance you might see that they had words carved into them from high to backside. There was also lots of shade between them so I took my sizzling canine and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the monoliths.
I keep in mind that the stone was cool against my again as I sat there wanting at the stone throughout from me on that heat afternoon. As I seemed up it dawned on me that the phrases lower into the stones were all names. Mid Just names. The names of soldiers, sailors and airmen who had met their dying 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 their graves besides these within the hearts of these they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up round me.
I learn throughout a number of rows, transferring right to left, then down a row, after which proper to left. I obtained to the end of the sixth row and went again to the start of the seventh row.
At the beginning of the seventh row, I read the title: “Gerard Van der Leun. My name. Lower into the stone amongst a tally of the useless.
When you have an unusual name, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a listing of the useless on a summer season Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling besides to know that, for many long moments, I became chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my title was within the stone. I’d all the time recognized 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 someone else fully. Somebody who had been born, lived, and died earlier than I was even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s middle brother. He was what my household had given to stop Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide in the Second World Warfare. He was one in all their three sons. He was dead earlier than he was 22 years old. His body by no means recovered, the exact time and place of his death over the Atlantic, unknown.
As the primary child born after his loss of life, I was given his identify, Gerard. But as a baby I was never referred to as by that name. I was all the time called “Jerry. “Jerry isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard. There are none for that name. However “Jerry I can be because the mere mention of the name “Gerard was enough to send my grandmother right into a dark mind-set that might final for weeks. This was true, as far as I do know, for all the times of her life and she lived nicely into her 80s.
My grandfather may barely converse of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was flawed to ask.
My father, who was refused service in the Second World War as a result of a bout of rheumatic fever as a toddler that left him with the guts murmur that will kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t combat and wouldn’t speak of his brother, Gerard, besides to say, “He was an amazing, brave child. /p>
My uncle, the child 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 by no means communicate of his conflict in any respect, but it must have been very dangerous certainly.
I know this as a result of, when I was a teenager, I was out in his storage in the future and, opening a drawer, I discovered an outdated packet of images, grimy with mud on the back below a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white photographs with tough perforated edges confirmed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot filled with holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it, some crumpled heaps of clothing on patches of dirty snow that proved to be, on closer inspection, useless Korean soldiers; a pile of bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The total horror show.
My uncle had taken them and couldn’t half with them. At the identical time he couldn’t have a look at them. So he shoved them right into a drawer with other unused junk from his past and left it at that. He by no means spoke of Korea except to say it was “rough, and, now that he has quit talking of something, he by no means will. His solely remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was a great child. You can be proud to have his name. Simply don’t use it round Grandma. /p>
And that i didn’t. Nobody in my family ever did. All by means of the years that I used to be growing up at house, I was “Jerry. /p>
In time, I left dwelling for the University and, in the style of young men within the 1960s and since, I came upon loads of recent and, to my younger thoughts, wonderful ideas. A minor one of those was that it was time to cease being a ‘Jerry a reputation I related for some purpose with young men with red hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I decided that I’d reject my family’s preferences and name myself by my given title, ‘Gerard. Actually, in 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. /p>
This attitude served me effectively enough and shortly it seemed I had skilled my bothers and my parents in my new title. Of course, I’d taken this title not due to who my uncle had been or due to the cause for which he gave his life, but for the selfish purpose that it merely sounded more “dignified to my ears.
I used to be a pupil at the University of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US navy that was “brutally repressing the people of Vietnam. We were stupid and young and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its college students. If anything, my era on the College just made it someway doable for Berkeley college students to assume that their attitudes had been as noble and as pure of their minds as they were silly and egocentric in reality. I was now not a “Jerry but a “Gerard and I was going to make the world secure from America.
My name change plan went nicely as long as I confined it to my rapid family and my associates at the College. It went so effectively that it made me even silly sufficient to try to increase it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their residence.
In some unspecified time in the future throughout the meal, my grandmother mentioned something like, “Would you want some more creamed onions, Jerry? /p>
And since I was a very selfish and silly younger man, I looked at her and said, “Grandma, everybody here knows that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just obtained to get used to calling me that. /p>
Instantly, the silence got here into the room. It rose out of the middle of the table and expanded till it reached the partitions after which just dropped down over the room like a large, dark shroud.
No one moved. Very slowly each set of eyes of my family came around and looked at me. Not angry, but just wanting. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes had been wet, rose from the desk and mentioned, “No. I can’t try this. I simply can’t. She left the desk and walked down the hallway to her bedroom and closed the door behind her.
The silence compounded itself till my grandfather rose from his chair and walked to the middle of the hallway. He took a framed photograph off the wall where hung subsequent to a framed gold star. It had been in that place so lengthy that I’d stopped seeing it.
My grandfather walked back to the table and very gently handed me the photograph. It showed a smooth-faced handsome young flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather flying jacket and leaning casually towards the fuselage of a bomber. You may see the clear plastic within the nostril of the airplane simply above his head to his proper. On the picture, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard. /p>
My grandfather stood behind me as I looked at the picture. “You aren’t Gerard. You simply have his identify, but you aren’t him. That’s my son. He’s Gerard. If you don’t thoughts, we will proceed to call you Jerry in this home. Should you do thoughts, you wouldn’t have to come back right here any more. /p>
Then he took the picture away and put it again 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 said a word. We’d just sat there. I used to be wishing to be nearly anyplace else on this planet than where I used to be.
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My dad and mom by no means stated a word. Not then and not after. And, to their credit, they continued to name me Gerard. However not at my grandparents house.
In 1975, I leaned against a monument in Battery Park in New York and read a name reduce into stone amongst a list of the useless. That way back Thanksgiving scene got here back to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to know what that name in the stone had meant to my household when it turned the only thing that remained of their middle son; a man who’d been swallowed up in the Atlantic during a war that finished earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to grasp what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and mother and father, but I could not. I was a toddler of the long peace who had avoided his struggle and gone on to make a life that, in many ways, was spent taking-down the things that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I used to be thirty then and not but a dad Stone Island News or mum. That might come a couple of years later and, with the start of my daughter, I might eventually begin, but solely start, to know.
At this time it makes me feel cheap and contemptible to think of the things I did in my youth to point out all of the ways in which this nation fails to realize some fantasied perfection. I used to be a small a part of promulgating a fantastic unsuitable and a big lie for a very long time, and I’m certain there’s no making up for that. My chance to be worthy of the man within the photograph, the identify on the wall, has lengthy since passed and all I can do is to try, not directly, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these way back moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long Conflict, I nonetheless can not declare to know the deep sense of duty and the strong feeling of honor that drove men just like the uncle I’ve by no means recognized to sacrifice themselves. These days though, as we transfer deeper into the Fourth World Battle, I feel that, eventually, I can in some way dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to provide “the final full measure of devotion. And that, for now, must do.
Since finding his name on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place quite a few times. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September eleventh, I made some extent of going to the monument as soon as the best way was cleared, someday in 2002. It was for the last time.
But in case you go the monument right this moment, you’ll be able to nonetheless see the identify within the stone. It’s not my identify, however the title 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 in direction of the sea. The title is normally in shadow and virtually impossible to photograph.
Like most of the opposite names carved into the stone it’s up there very high. You can see it, but you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you are, you’re not that tall.