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July 5, 2017
The Name Within the Stone
On Dwelling with the Loss of a Son in Wartime.
My title, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve never met anybody else with the identical identify. I find out about one different man with my title, however we’ve never met. I’ve seen his name in an unusual place. This is the story of how that happened.
It was an August Sunday in New York City in 1975. I’d decided to bicycle from my house 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 moving to the city in 1974, it seemed like a vacation spot that can be attention-grabbing. Just how fascinating, I had no manner of understanding once i left.
August Sundays in New York might be the perfect occasions for town. The psychotherapists are all on trip — as are their shoppers and most of the opposite professional courses. The city appears almost deserted, the traffic light and, as you progress down into Wall Avenue and the encircling areas, it becomes just about non-existent. On a bicycle you own the streets that form the underside of the slim canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it is still cool with shade. Then you definitely emerge from the streets into the shiny open area at Battery Park.
Tourists are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A number of individuals 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 best way down to the Battery that day since, even though it seems to be flat, there’s a really slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and obtained one of many dubious Sabaretts scorching canines and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
We had been in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over every little thing, thought of, in the event that they had been considered in any respect, as an irritation in that they blocked off a lot of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was just about at the midway point between two world wars. After all, we didn’t know that at the time. The one warfare we knew of was the Second World Conflict and the background humm of the Chilly Conflict. It was a summer Sunday and we have been within the midst of what now may be seen as “The Lengthy 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 feet wide, 20 toes tall and three feet thick. From a distance you would see that they had words carved into them from top to backside. There was also lots of shade between them so I took my scorching dog 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 looking at the stone throughout from me on that warm afternoon. As I looked up it dawned on me that the phrases lower into the stones were all names. Simply names. The names of troopers, sailors and airmen who had met their demise within the north Atlantic in WWII. I used to be to learn later that there were four,601 names. All lost within the frigid waters, all with none 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 read throughout several rows, shifting proper to left, then down a row, and then right to left. I got to the tip of the sixth row and went again to the beginning of the seventh row.
Originally of the seventh row, I learn the name: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My name. Lower into the stone amongst a tally of the lifeless.
In case you have an unusual title, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in an inventory 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 a lot of long moments, I grew to become chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my identify was in the stone. I’d always identified why, however I’d never identified in regards to the stone or the names lower into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, after all, not me. He was another person completely. Somebody who had been born, lived, and died before I was even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s center 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 dead earlier than he was 22 years outdated. His body never recovered, the exact time and place of his death over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was at all times referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” is not a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the primary baby born after his loss of life, I used to be given his identify, Gerard. But as a child I used to be never known as by that identify. I was all the time known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that name. But “Jerry” I could be as a result of the mere mention of the identify “Gerard” was enough to ship my grandmother right into a darkish state of mind that will final for weeks. This was true, so far as I know, for all the times of her life and she lived properly into her 80s.
My grandfather could barely speak 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 in the Second World Battle as a result of a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the center murmur that would kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t battle and wouldn’t converse of his brother, Gerard, besides to say, “He was a fantastic, brave kid.”
My uncle, the child of the family, spent a yr or two of his youth freezing on the Inchon peninsula in Korea and seeing the worst of that warfare first hand. He was my only dwelling relative who’d been in a warfare. He would by no means communicate of his battle in any respect, nevertheless it will need to have been very unhealthy certainly.
… a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it…
I know this because, when I was a teenager, I used to be out in his storage in the future and, opening a drawer, I discovered an previous packet of photographs, grimy with mud on the again beneath a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white pictures with tough perforated edges showed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot stuffed with holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it, some crumpled heaps of clothes on patches of soiled snow that proved to be, on closer inspection, dead Korean troopers; a pile of our bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The total horror present.
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 different unused junk from his previous and left it at that. He never spoke of Korea besides to say it was “rough,” and, now that he has stop speaking of something, he by no means will. His only comment to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was an incredible child. You could be proud to have his title. Just don’t use it round Grandma.”
And that i didn’t. Nobody in my household ever did. All by the years that I used to be growing up at house, I was “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 younger thoughts, glorious ideas. A minor one of those was that it was time to cease being a ‘Jerry’ — a name I associated for some purpose with younger males with red hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I decided that I might reject my family’s preferences and call myself by my given title, ‘Gerard.’ The truth is, within the callous method of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I might insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my dad and mom and would correct them when they lapsed again to ‘Jerry.’
This perspective served me properly sufficient and shortly it appeared I had educated my bothers and my parents in my new identify. After all, I’d taken this identify not due to who my uncle had been or due to the cause for which he gave his life, but for the egocentric cause that it simply sounded extra “dignified” to my ears.
I used to be a pupil on the College of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US army that was “brutally repressing” the individuals of Vietnam. We have been silly and younger and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its students. If something, my era on the College simply 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 were silly and selfish in actuality. I was not 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 identify change plan went effectively as long as I confined it to my speedy household and my pals on the College. It went so properly that it made me even stupid sufficient to strive to increase it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their residence.
In some unspecified time in the future in the course of the meal, my grandmother mentioned something like, “Would you want some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
And because I was a very egocentric and silly younger man, I checked out her and stated, “Grandma, everybody right stone island ghost jacket green here knows that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just received to get used to calling me that.”
Instantly, the silence got here into the room. It rose out of the center of the table and expanded until it reached the walls after which just dropped down over the room like a large, darkish shroud.
No person moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family came 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 table and mentioned, “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 long 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-faced handsome young flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather-based flying jacket and leaning casually towards the fuselage of a bomber. You may see the clear plastic within the nostril of the plane just above his head to his proper. On the image, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I checked out the picture. “You are usually not Gerard. You just have his name, but you are not him. That’s my son. He’s Gerard. In the event you don’t thoughts, we are going to continue to call you Jerry in this home. If you do thoughts, you should not 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 came again to the table. No one else had said a word. We’d simply sat there. I used to be wishing to be just about anyplace else on the earth than where I used to be.
They sat down and my grandmother said, “So, Jerry, would you want some extra creamed onions ”
I nodded, they had been 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’ house.
A decade handed.
In 1975, I leaned against a monument in Battery Park in New York and browse a name cut into stone amongst a list of the dead. That long ago Thanksgiving scene got here again to me in all its dreadful detail. I tried to grasp what that title in the stone had meant to my family when it grew to become the one factor that remained of their middle son; a man who’d been swallowed up in the Atlantic throughout a war that finished earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to grasp what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and parents, however I could not. I used to be a child of the long peace who had averted his conflict 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 guardian. That would come a number of years later and, with the beginning of my daughter, I’d eventually begin, but only start, to understand.
Immediately it makes me feel cheap and contemptible to think of the issues I did in my youth to point out all of the methods during which this country fails to attain some fantasied perfection. I was a small a part of promulgating an excellent improper and a large lie for a long time, and I’m sure there’s no making up for that. My probability to be worthy of the man in the photograph, the identify on the wall, has long since passed and all I can do is to attempt, not directly, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Lengthy War, I still can not declare to grasp the deep sense of obligation and the robust feeling of honor that drove males like the uncle I’ve by no means identified to sacrifice themselves. Recently though, as we move deeper into the Fourth World War, I think that, eventually, I can by some means dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to give “the last full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, will have to do.
Since discovering his title on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place a number 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 was cleared, someday in 2002. It was for the final time.
But should you go the monument at the moment, you possibly can still see the title in the stone. It’s not my identify, however the name of a man significantly better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the proper aspect of the monument wanting in direction of the sea. The title is often in shadow and nearly inconceivable to photograph.
Like most of the opposite names carved into the stone it’s up there very excessive. You can see it, however you can’t touch it. I don’t care who you might be, you’re not that tall.