The Title Within the Stone
August 27, 2018
On Living with the Lack of a Son in Wartime.
My name, “Gerard Van der Leun, is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve never met anybody else with the same name. I learn about one other man with my title, but we’ve never 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 determined to bicycle from my apartment 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 appeared like a destination that would be attention-grabbing. Just how interesting, I had no way of realizing when i left.
August Sundays in New York can be the most effective occasions for the town. The psychotherapists are all on vacation as are their shoppers and most of the other skilled classes. The city seems virtually deserted, the traffic light and, as you move down into Wall Avenue and the encompassing 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 where, even at mid-day, it is still cool with shade. Then you definitely emerge from the streets into the shiny open space at Battery Park.
Vacationers are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A couple 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. Everything 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 received one of the dubious Sabaretts hot canine and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
We have been in the midst of what now might be seen as “The Lengthy Peace. /h2>
The twin towers loomed over everything, considered, if they were 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. In fact, we didn’t know that at the time. The only conflict we knew of was the Second World Conflict and the background humm of the Cold Struggle. It was a summer season Sunday and we had been in the midst of what now will be seen as “The Long Peace. /p>
In front of the lawns at Battery Park was a monument that caught my attention. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 feet extensive, 20 toes tall and three ft thick. From a distance you would see that that they had phrases carved into them from prime to bottom. There was also a variety of shade between them so I took my scorching dog and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the many monoliths.
I keep in mind that the stone was cool against my back as I sat there looking on the stone throughout from me on that warm afternoon. As I seemed up it dawned on me that the words cut into the stones have been all names. Just names. The names of troopers, sailors and airmen who had met their loss of life within the north Atlantic in WWII. I used to be to study later that there have been 4,601 names. All lost in the frigid waters, all with none marker for their graves besides those within the hearts of these they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up round me.
I learn across several rows, shifting right to left, then down a row, and then right to left. I obtained to the end of the sixth row and went again to the beginning of the seventh row.
At the start of the seventh row, I learn the title: “Gerard Van der Leun. My title. Lower into the stone amongst a tally of the useless.
If in case you have an unusual name, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a listing of the lifeless on a summer time Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling besides to know that, for many long moments, I turned chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my name was within the stone. I’d all the time recognized why, but I’d never known concerning the stone or the names cut into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun was, of course, not me. He was someone else entirely. 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 family had given to cease Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide within the Second World Conflict. He was one in every of their three sons. He was useless before he was 22 years previous. His physique by no means recovered, the precise time and place of his demise over the Atlantic, unknown.
I used to be all the time called “Jerry. “Jerry will not be a diminutive of “Gerard. /h2>
As the primary youngster born after his dying, I used to be given his identify, Gerard. But as a baby I used to be by no means referred to as by that identify. I used to be all the time called “Jerry. “Jerry just isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard. There are none for that name. However “Jerry I could be because the mere mention of the name “Gerard was sufficient to ship my grandmother into a dark way of thinking that will final for weeks. This was true, as far as I do know, for all the days of her life and she lived well into her 80s.
My grandfather might barely speak of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was wrong to ask.
My father, who was refused service within the Second World Battle because of a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the guts murmur that would kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t struggle and wouldn’t speak of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was an awesome, brave kid. /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 solely dwelling relative who’d been in a struggle. He would by no means converse of his conflict in any respect, however it must have been very dangerous certainly.
a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it /h2>
I 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 old packet of photographs, grimy with mud at the again below a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white images with rough perforated edges confirmed some very disturbing issues: a helmet shot stuffed 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 nearer inspection, dead 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 half with them. At the same time he couldn’t take a look at them. So he shoved them into a drawer with different 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 speaking of something, he by no means will. His only remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was a fantastic kid. You may be proud to have his identify. Simply don’t use it round Grandma. /p>
And i didn’t. Nobody in my family ever did. All through the years that I was growing up at home, I used to be “Jerry. /p>
In time, I left dwelling for the College and, in the style of younger males in the 1960s and since, I got here upon a lot of recent and, to my young mind, excellent ideas. A minor one of those was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry a reputation I related for some cause with younger males 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. Actually, within the callous method of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I might insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my mother and father and would right them after they lapsed again to ‘Jerry. /p>
This attitude served me properly sufficient and shortly it appeared I had skilled my bothers and my mother and father in my new name. After all, 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 purpose that it merely sounded extra “dignified to my ears.
I was a scholar on the University 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 had been stupid and young and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its college students. If something, my era on the College just made it someway possible for Berkeley college students to assume that their attitudes had been as noble and as pure of their minds as they had been stupid and selfish in reality. I was no longer a “Jerry but a “Gerard and I used to be going to make the world safe from America.
“Would you like some extra creamed onions, Jerry? /h2>
My title change plan went well as long as I confined it to my rapid household and my associates on the University. It went so nicely that it made me even stupid enough to try to increase it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their home.
In some unspecified time in the future through the meal, my grandmother mentioned something like, “Would you want some extra creamed onions, Jerry? /p>
And because I used to be a really selfish and stupid young man, I checked out her and said, “Grandma, everybody right here is aware of that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just received to get used to calling me that. /p>
Instantly, the silence came into the room. It rose out of the middle of the desk and expanded until it reached the partitions after which simply dropped down over the room like a big, darkish shroud.
Nobody moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family got here round and looked at me. Not angry, but simply wanting. Stone Island Jackets At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes have been wet, rose from the table and said, “No. I can’t do that. I just can’t. She left the desk 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 middle of the hallway. He took a framed photograph off the wall where hung next 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. /h2>
My grandfather walked back to the desk and very gently handed me the photograph. It confirmed a smooth-confronted handsome younger flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather flying jacket and leaning casually against the fuselage of a bomber. You might see the clear plastic in the nostril of the plane 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 are not Gerard. You just have his identify, however you are not him. That is my son. He is Gerard. If you happen to don’t mind, we are going to continue to name you Jerry on this home. In case you do mind, you do not have to come back 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 couple of minutes he and my grandmother got here back to the table. No person else had stated a word. We’d simply sat there. I was wishing to be nearly anyplace else on this planet than where I used to be.
They sat down and my grandmother said, “So, Jerry, would you like some extra creamed onions? /h2>
I nodded, they had been handed and the meal went on. My mother and father by no means mentioned a phrase. Not then and never after. And, to their credit, they continued to call me Gerard. But not at my grandparents home.
A decade passed.
In 1975, I leaned against a monument in Battery Park in New York and skim a name cut into stone amongst a list of the lifeless. That long ago Thanksgiving scene came again to me in all its dreadful detail. I tried to understand what that name within the stone had meant to my household when it became the only factor that remained of their center son; a man who’d been swallowed up in the Atlantic during a war that finished earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to know what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and dad and mom, however I couldn’t. I used to be a toddler of the long peace who had averted his struggle 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 used to be thirty then and not yet a mother or father. That would come a few years later and, with the start of my daughter, I’d ultimately start, but only start, to know.
At present it makes me really feel low cost and contemptible to consider the things I did in my youth to point out all the ways in which this country fails to realize some fantasied perfection. I was a small part of promulgating an awesome fallacious and a big lie for a long time, and I’m sure there’s no making up for that. My chance to be worthy of the man in the photograph, the title on the wall, has long since passed and all I can do is to attempt, ultimately, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long War, I nonetheless can’t claim to know the deep sense of obligation and the sturdy feeling of honor that drove men like the uncle I’ve never recognized to sacrifice themselves. Lately though, as we transfer deeper into the Fourth World Warfare, I feel that, at last, I can by some means dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to present “the last full measure of devotion. And that, for now, must do.
Since finding his identify on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place a number of occasions. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September 11th, I made a degree of going to the monument as quickly as the best way was cleared, someday in 2002. It was for the last time.
But in the event you go the monument at the moment, you’ll be able to nonetheless see the name 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 aspect of the monument trying in the direction of the sea. The title is often in shadow and virtually impossible to photograph.
Like most of the opposite names carved into the stone it’s up there very excessive. You possibly can see it, but you can’t touch it. I don’t care who you might be, you’re not that tall.
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