On Sunday I got a chance to go to the Fort Snelling cemetery with my dad to visit the site where his father was buried 16 years ago this July. There was quite a crowd gathered and we had to search a bit to find the spot among the rows and rows of veteran laid to rest. I saw a couple of memorials for World War I vets along the way, including one who died just short of reaching 100 years of life. It reminded me of the George Will column I read that morning about the last surviving U.S. doughboy from the Great War – the last living link to a horrible war that seems to be all but forgotten because of its sequel.
I could tell a lot of stories about my grandpa, none of which have anything to do with his service in the Second World War. Like many of his generation, his combat experience in the Pacific was not something to be discussed, even though he carried a souvenir at all times – the scar from a piece of shrapnel that found his leg, something that I had to learn about from my father.
Grandpa liked sports, but not particularly baseball. The only interaction I ever really had with him about the game was when he would tease me as a three year old, telling me that my favorite team at the time, the Houston Astros, was nothing but a collection of bums. As my allegiances shifted to the Twins, so did Grandpa’s “bum” label, though technically accurate when describing the Twins of the early eighties. One Memorial Day shortly before he died, Grandpa made me watch the Indianapolis 500 with him. I think there was a baseball game on television at the time, but he told me that Indy was required watching on Memorial Day. It was probably the first and definitely the last time that I paid any attention to the race.
As I scanned the rows of headstones at the cemetery, I noticed the vast majority seemed to be from World War II like my grandpa. I had read somewhere that those veterans were dying at a pace in the thousands per day, and it won’t be long before some columnist will write about the last living veteran of the Second World War. I wish that Grandpa would have talked about, or at least written down his experiences. When Grandpa passed away from cancer in 1992, my dad found his war medals buried among his other belongings, likely not having seen the light of day in decades.
I think that I’ll make the trip to Fort Snelling a yearly one, and hopefully will bring my son with when he is old enough. I think I may try to do it on a weekend other than Memorial Day, though. I’m pretty sure Grandpa would appreciate any attempt to avoid the crowd. After all, he is the one who made us get up before sunrise to make the trek to Disney World so we didn’t have to fight the traffic.