My grandfather recently passed away at 93 years old.
After eight days in hospice care, he died in his own perfect way—it was a death which much dignity. I’ve had some time to reflect on his life, and I keep coming back to a story that has come to light in the past few weeks; and although he is gone, I feel like this is a part of his life, his story, that needs to be told.
We were going through old photo albums from my grandpa’s life. They were typical albums, although meticulously organized, from his boyhood to his family, church service, vacations, and his military days.
There is no doubt that his time serving our country during World War II played a major role in shaping who he was as a human. He and his wife had continued to attend his Marine Corps reunions on the coast of Japan, and the dwindling size of his platoon in successive photographs showed the rate at which he lost dear friends—brothers in arms he would speak so highly of. Even on his last days, he reminisced about the many good men they lost in battle. His experiences clearly never left his mind or heart.
Mixed in with the pages of pictures of old farms and his children growing up were small, wallet-sized black and white photos of Asian women. At first, I kind of got a chuckle, no doubt thinking my sweet, handsome grandpa must’ve been a real ladies’ man. That little giddy skip in my heart soon settled to something quite the opposite as the reality of what these pictures showed was revealed.
They were photographs taken from the pockets of the enemy’s deceased as their bodies lay on the battlefield. Pictures of some young man’s everything, reminders of home through the lens of the camera, whose edges had faded to shades of brown. Faces of women, mothers, wives, girlfriends, who no doubt gave these boys hope and a future to fight for.
And my grandpa held onto these photos for all these years—treated as treasures in a photo album of his life. He kept them not as tokens of war to boast about, which was certainly not his style, but to remind him of the high cost of war. The heaviness of it all. He recognized that these young men, “the enemy,” had loved ones and entire lives waiting for them that they would never return to. Young men, just like my grandfather, who were full of promise, patriotism, joy, duty, laughter, and sorrows.
He never spoke of this until the end of his life was near. He carried that weight with him as so many others in his position must have. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. About those men and those women waiting. About my grandfather’s heart and the things he must have seen and had to do.
I think about his last days and how every time I visited him he held my hand, squeezed tightly to his chest. I remember thinking that even after being a mechanic most of his life, his hands were so silky smooth. When I reminisce about him as a person, this is what I will always think about:
His hands—hands that have done the hardest of things—were still so soft.
Author: Sarah Grant-Welliver
Image: Author’s own; Jesse Orrico/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina