The Name In the Stone
On Living with the Loss of a Son in Wartime.
My identify, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve by no means met anybody else with the same identify. I know about one other man with my identify, but we’ve never met. I’ve seen his identify in an unusual place. That 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 condominium 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 appeared like a vacation spot that would be interesting. Simply how fascinating, I had no approach of understanding after i left.
August Sundays in New York can be the best instances for town. The psychotherapists are all on trip — as are their purchasers and most of the other professional lessons. The city seems virtually deserted, the visitors gentle and, as you progress down into Wall Street and the surrounding areas, it becomes virtually non-existent. On a bicycle you personal the streets that form the underside of the narrow canyons of buildings the place, even at mid-day, it is still cool with shade. Then you definitely emerge from the streets into the bright open house 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. Everything is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way right down to the Battery that day since, even though it seems to be flat, there is a very slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and acquired one of many dubious Sabaretts scorching dogs and a chilled coke from the only vendor working the park.
We have been in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over every little thing, thought of, if they have been considered in any respect, as an irritation in that they blocked off so much of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was just about at the midway point between two world wars. In fact, we didn’t know that at the time. The one war we knew of was the Second World Struggle and the background humm of the Cold Warfare. It was a summer time Sunday and we had been in the midst of what now can be seen as “The Long Peace.”
In entrance of the lawns at Battery Park was a monument that caught Cheap Stone Island my attention. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 toes broad, 20 ft tall and three ft thick. From a distance you could possibly see that they had phrases carved into them from prime to bottom. There was also a whole lot of shade between them so I took my hot dog and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the monoliths.
I remember that the stone was cool towards my back as I sat there looking on the stone across from me on that warm afternoon. As I looked up it dawned on me that the words minimize into the stones were all names. Simply names. The names of soldiers, sailors and airmen who had met their death in the north Atlantic in WWII. I was to learn later that there have been four,601 names. All misplaced in the frigid waters, all without any marker for their graves — besides those within the hearts of those they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up around me.
I read across several rows, moving right to left, then down a row, and then proper to left. I acquired to the tip of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
In the beginning of the seventh row, I learn the title: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My identify. Cut into the stone amongst a tally of the dead.
When you’ve got an unusual identify, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a listing of the useless on a summer time Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t actually remember the feeling besides to know that, for many long moments, I became chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my name was in the stone. I’d at all times recognized why, but I’d by no means identified about the stone or the names lower into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, of course, not me. He was another person solely. Someone who had been born, lived, and died earlier than I used to be even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s center brother. He was what my family had given to stop Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide in the Second World Struggle. He was certainly one of their three sons. He was useless before he was 22 years outdated. His physique never recovered, the precise time and place of his loss of life over the Atlantic, unknown.
I used to be all the time called “Jerry.” “Jerry” is just not a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the primary baby born after his loss of life, I used to be given his identify, Gerard. However as a child I used to be never referred to as by that title. I was at all times referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” will not be a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that identify. However “Jerry” I could be as a result of the mere point out of the name “Gerard” was sufficient to ship my grandmother right into a dark frame 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 effectively into her 80s.
My grandfather might barely converse of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was mistaken to ask.
My father, who was refused service within the Second World Conflict attributable to a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the center murmur that might kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t struggle and wouldn’t converse of his brother, Gerard, besides to say, “He was an incredible, brave kid.”
My uncle, the child of the family, spent a 12 months 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 residing relative who’d been in a struggle. He would by no means communicate of his warfare in any respect, but it will need to have been very dangerous indeed.
… a helmet shot stuffed with holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it…
I do know this as a result of, when I was a teenager, I was out in his storage at some point and, opening a drawer, I discovered an previous packet of pictures, grimy with mud on the back below a bunch of rusted instruments. 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 dirty snow that proved to be, on nearer inspection, lifeless Korean soldiers; 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 by no means spoke of Korea besides to say it was “rough,” and, now that he has stop 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 amazing child. You may be proud to have his title. Just don’t use it round Grandma.”
And that i didn’t. No one in my household ever did. All via the years that I used to be rising up at residence, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left residence for the University and, in the style of younger males within the 1960s and since, I got here upon loads of recent and, to my young thoughts, glorious ideas. A minor one of those was that it was time to cease being a ‘Jerry’ — a reputation I associated for some cause with younger men 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.’ The truth is, within the callous method of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I’d insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my dad and mom and would right them after they lapsed again to ‘Jerry.’
This perspective served me properly sufficient and soon it appeared I had educated my bothers and my dad and mom in my new name. Of course, I’d taken this title not due to who my uncle had been or due to the cause for which he gave his life, however for the egocentric reason that it simply sounded extra “dignified” to my ears.
I used to be a pupil on the University of California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US military that was “brutally repressing” the individuals of Vietnam. We have been stupid and younger and nothing that has occurred at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its college students. If something, my era on the University just made it someway potential for Berkeley college students to suppose that their attitudes had been as noble and as pure in their minds as they have been silly and egocentric in actuality. I was now not a “Jerry” however a “Gerard” and I was going to make the world protected from America.
“Would you want some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
My name change plan went well as long as I confined it to my instant family and my pals on the College. It went so well that it made me even silly enough to strive 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 like some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
And since I was a very selfish and silly younger man, I looked at her and said, “Grandma, everyone right here is aware of that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve simply got to get used to calling me that.”
Instantly, the silence got here into the room. It rose out of the middle of the table and expanded until it reached the partitions and then simply dropped down over the room like a big, dark shroud.
No person moved. Very slowly each set of eyes of my household came around and checked out me. Not offended, but simply looking. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes had been wet, rose from the table and said, “No. I can’t do that. I simply can’t.” She left the desk 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 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 lengthy that I’d stopped seeing it.
“Folks, Here’s my new workplace! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked back to the desk and very gently handed me the photograph. It showed a clean-faced handsome young flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather-based flying jacket and leaning casually against the fuselage of a bomber. You possibly can see the clear plastic within the nostril of the aircraft simply above his head to his right. On the image, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I looked at the image. “You are usually not Gerard. You simply have his identify, however you aren’t him. That is my son. He is Gerard. Should you don’t thoughts, we will proceed to name you Jerry in this house. Should you do mind, you do not need to come back here any extra.”
Then he took the image away and put it again in its place on the wall. He knocked on the bedroom door, went in, and in a couple of minutes he and my grandmother came back to the desk. Nobody else had mentioned a phrase. We’d just sat there. I used to be wishing to be nearly anyplace else in the world than the place I was.
They sat down and my grandmother mentioned, “So, Jerry, would you want some more creamed onions ”
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My parents by no means said a word. Not then and not after. And, to their credit score, they continued to name me Gerard. But not at my grandparents’ home.
A decade handed.
In 1975, I leaned in opposition to a monument in Battery Park in New York and read a reputation minimize into stone among an inventory of the lifeless. That long ago Thanksgiving scene came again to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to understand what that name within 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 struggle that completed before I drew breath.
I tried to understand what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and dad and mom, but I couldn’t. I was a baby of the lengthy peace who had avoided his battle and gone on to make a life that, in many ways, was spent taking-down the things that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I used to be thirty then and not but a dad or mum. That would come a few years later and, with the delivery of my daughter, I’d ultimately begin, however only begin, to know.
In the present day it makes me really feel low cost and contemptible to think of the things I did in my youth to level out all the ways by which this nation fails to achieve some fantasied perfection. I used to be a small part of promulgating an excellent mistaken and a large lie for a long time, and I’m positive there’s no making up for that. stone island camouflage reflex mat jacket My chance to be worthy of the man within the photograph, the name on the wall, has long since handed and all I can do is stone island camouflage reflex mat jacket to strive, not directly, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these way back moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long Struggle, I nonetheless cannot declare to understand the deep sense of responsibility and the strong feeling of honor that drove men just like the uncle I’ve by no means known to sacrifice themselves. Lately though, as we move deeper into the Fourth World Warfare, I believe 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, must do.
Since discovering his title on the stone in 1975, I’ve been back to that place a lot of instances. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September eleventh, I made some extent of going to the monument as soon as the way in which was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the final time.
However when you go the monument as we speak, you’ll be able to nonetheless see the title in the stone. It’s not my name, however the identify of a man a lot better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the suitable facet of the monument trying in direction of the sea. The title is often in shadow and almost inconceivable to photograph.
Like most of the other 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 might be, you’re not that tall.