My title, “Gerard Van der Leun, is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve by no means met anybody else with the identical name. I find out about one other man with my identify, but we’ve by no means met. I’ve seen his title in an unusual place. This is the story of how that happened.
It was an August Sunday in New York Metropolis 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 town in 1974, it appeared like a vacation spot that could be interesting. Just how fascinating, I had no way of understanding after i left.
August Sundays in New York may be the most effective instances for the city. The psychotherapists are all on trip as are their purchasers and most of the opposite skilled classes. Town appears nearly deserted, the traffic mild and, as you progress down into Wall Street and the surrounding areas, it becomes just about non-existent. On a bicycle you own the streets that kind the underside of the slim canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it continues to be cool with shade. You then emerge from the streets into the vibrant open space at Battery Park.
Vacationers are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A couple 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 little thing is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way in which all the way down to the Battery that day since, regardless that it appears to be flat, there’s a very slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived solely a bit hungry and thirsty and received one of the dubious Sabaretts sizzling canine and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
The twin towers loomed over all the things, thought of, in the event that they had been thought of at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off so much of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was just about on the midway level between two world wars. After all, we didn’t know that at the time. The only warfare we knew of was the Second World Conflict and the background humm of the Chilly Battle. It was a summer Sunday and we have been in the midst of what now will be seen as “The Lengthy Peace. /p>
In front 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 toes vast, 20 toes tall and three ft thick. From a distance you might see that they had phrases carved into them from high to backside. There was also a number 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 remember that the stone was cool in opposition to my back as I sat there trying on the stone across from me on that heat afternoon. As I regarded up it dawned on me that the phrases lower into the stones have been all names. stubs Just names. The names of troopers, sailors and airmen who had met their dying within the north Atlantic in WWII. I used to be to learn later that there were four,601 names. All lost in the frigid waters, all without any marker for their graves besides these in the hearts of those they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up around me.
I learn across a number of rows, transferring right to left, then down a row, and then proper to left. I bought to the top of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
Firstly of the seventh row, I learn the title: “Gerard Van der Leun. My title. Minimize into the stone amongst a tally of the lifeless.
When you’ve got an unusual identify, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a list of the useless on a summer time Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling besides to know that, for a lot of lengthy moments, I turned chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my name was within the stone. I’d always identified why, however I’d by no means identified about the stone or the names minimize into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun was, in fact, not me. He was someone else solely. Somebody who had been born, lived, and died before I was even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s middle brother. He was what my household had given to cease Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide within the Second World War. He was one of their three sons. He was lifeless earlier than he was 22 years old. His body by no means recovered, the exact time and place of his demise over the Atlantic, unknown.
As the first baby born after his demise, I was given his identify, Gerard. But as a toddler I used to be never called by that title. I used to be at all times known as “Jerry. “Jerry isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard. There are none for that title. However “Jerry I can be as a result of the mere point out of the identify “Gerard was enough to send my grandmother into a dark mind-set that will last for weeks. This was true, so far as I do know, for all the days of her life and she lived effectively 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 unsuitable to ask.
My father, who was refused service within the Second World War as a result of a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the guts murmur that will kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t struggle and wouldn’t converse of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was an incredible, brave child. /p>
My uncle, the child of the household, spent a 12 months or two of his youth freezing on the Inchon peninsula in Korea and seeing the worst of that struggle first hand. He was my only residing relative who’d been in a struggle. He would never speak of his war in any respect, however it should have been very bad indeed.
I know this because, when I used to be a teenager, I used to be out in his garage someday and, opening a drawer, I discovered an outdated packet of photographs, grimy with mud on the again under a bunch of rusted tools. The black and white pictures with tough perforated edges confirmed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot filled with 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 closer inspection, dead Korean soldiers; a pile of our bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The complete horror show.
My uncle had taken them and couldn’t half with them. At the same time he couldn’t have a look at them. So he shoved them into a drawer with different unused junk from his previous and left it at that. He never 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 comment to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was an ideal child. You may be proud to have his title. Simply don’t use it round Grandma. /p>
And i didn’t. Nobody in my family ever did. All by means of the years that I used to be rising up at house, I used to be “Jerry. /p>
In time, I left dwelling for the College and, in the way of young men in the 1960s and since, I got here upon rather a lot of new and, to my young thoughts, excellent ideas. A minor one of these was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry a name I associated for some motive with younger males with pink 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 name, ‘Gerard. In truth, within the callous method of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I would insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my parents and would right them once they lapsed back to ‘Jerry. /p>
This angle served me effectively sufficient and shortly it appeared I had skilled my bothers and my dad and mom in my new title. Of course, I’d taken this identify not because of who my uncle had been or due to the trigger for which he gave his life, however for the egocentric motive that it merely sounded extra “dignified to my ears.
I was a student at the College of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US military that was “brutally repressing the people of Vietnam. We were silly and younger and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has changed the youth and stupidity of its college students. If something, my era on the University simply made it in some way doable for Berkeley college students to assume that their attitudes had been as noble and as pure in their minds as they have been stupid and selfish in reality. I was no longer a “Jerry however a “Gerard and I was going to make the world protected from America.
My identify change plan went nicely so long as I confined it to my speedy family and my pals at the College. It went so properly that it made me even silly sufficient to strive to increase it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their house.
In some unspecified time in the future through the meal, my grandmother said something like, “Would you like some extra creamed onions, Jerry? /p>
And since I used to be a very selfish and stupid young man, I looked at her and mentioned, “Grandma, everybody here is aware of that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just acquired to get used to calling me that. /p>
Immediately, the silence came into the room. It rose out of the center of the desk and expanded till it reached the walls and then just dropped down over the room like a big, dark shroud.
No person moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family came around and checked out me. Not offended, 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 till 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 long that I’d stopped seeing it.
My grandfather walked again to the desk 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 against the fuselage of a bomber. You may see the clear plastic within the nose of the airplane simply above his head to his proper. On the picture, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new workplace! Love, Gerard. /p>
My grandfather stood behind me as I looked at the picture. “You should not Gerard. You simply have his title, however you are not him. That’s my son. He’s Gerard. For those who don’t thoughts, we will continue to name you Jerry in this home. If you do thoughts, you wouldn’t have to return here any more. /p>
Then he took the image 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 came again to the table. Nobody else had stated a phrase. We’d simply sat there. I used to be wishing to be nearly anyplace else on the earth than where I was.
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My dad and mom never mentioned a phrase. Not then and never after. And, to their credit, they continued to call me Gerard. But not at my grandparents home.
In 1975, I leaned towards a monument in Battery Park in New York and browse a name cut into stone amongst a listing of the dead. That way back Thanksgiving scene came back to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to grasp what that title in the stone had meant to my household when it became the only thing that remained of their center son; a man who’d been swallowed up within the Atlantic during a war that finished earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to understand what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and parents, but I couldn’t. I was a toddler of the long peace who had avoided his war and gone on to make a life that, in many ways, was spent taking-down the issues that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I was thirty then and never but a parent. That might come a couple of years later and, with the delivery of my daughter, I would ultimately begin, however solely start, to know.
Right this moment it makes me feel low-cost and contemptible to think about the things I did in my youth to point out all of the methods wherein this nation fails to achieve some fantasied perfection. I used to be a small part of promulgating a great flawed and a large lie for a very long time, and I’m certain there’s no making up for that. My likelihood to be worthy of the man in the photograph, the name on the wall, has lengthy since handed and all I can do is to strive, in a roundabout way, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long Battle, I nonetheless can’t claim to know the deep sense of obligation and the robust feeling of honor that drove men just like the uncle I’ve never recognized to sacrifice themselves. These days although, as we move deeper into the Fourth World War, I believe that, eventually, I can one way or the other dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to offer “the final full measure of devotion. And that, for now, should do.
Since discovering his name on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place quite a lot of instances. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September eleventh, I made a degree of going to the monument as soon as the way in which was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the last time.
But when you go the monument as we speak, you possibly can still see the identify in the stone. It’s not my name, but 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 right facet of the monument wanting towards the sea. The identify is often in shadow and almost impossible to photograph.
Like most of the opposite names carved into the stone it’s up there very excessive. You possibly can see it, however you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you are, you’re not that tall.
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