April 10, 2020

Another Look: Richard

Curtiss P-40E Warhawk

Note from CM: I went to a funeral this week of a 96 year-old veteran of both WWII and Korea. As I sat there in the service, I was reminded of this post from a few years ago about one of his comrades.

• • •

Richard

This is Middle America. This is the generation of “older people” that I grew up respecting, the people who ran or worked for local businesses, tended to their families, and were involved in their communities. This is the group of people who essentially built the world as I have known it. They fought in World War II, came home and went to school or work, marrying the sweethearts they met before or after going overseas. This is the Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner, Crosby and Hope, Bogie and Bacall generation.

This is Richard.

I officiated Richard’s funeral this week, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Sure, there were tears, but many of them were tears of gratitude. Richard had lived 92 good years, was married over 65 years, lived a simple, frugal life with five kids and a number of pets in a proud, well-kept neighborhood in the city. A neighbor told me he used to have a good walk every morning and evening to and from the bus that took him to work downtown.

Richard was a codebreaker in Italy during World War II. He was proud of his military service and he maintained an interest in the era by building model WWII model airplanes and reading about it. A few years ago he had the privilege of going on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. and seeing the WWII Memorial honoring guys like him.

His wife died a few years ago and it was the one sadness in his life as far as I could determine. Oh yes, he did have one regret from earlier days. While serving in Italy, he came into possession of a beautiful dog to which he gave an Italian name. When it came time to return stateside, he was not allowed to bring the dog with him. The kids told me he talked about that dog for the rest of his life.

Richard loved animals. I’ve always considered that to be a telling feature of a person. If someone loves animals and treats them with kindness and loving care, it usually indicates goodness of character. His last pet was the most affectionate cat I have ever been around. When we met as a hospice team after Richard’s death, we talked a long time about what would happen to the cat; they were that close. Solution: one of the daughters will take her to her home, a continual reminder of her dad’s gentle and kind spirit.

Richard had an active mind right up to the end. Whenever I visited, he was working through a book, or several of them. When he could no longer read well enough, he listened to books on tape, and we would discuss what he was reading. He remained curious and interested in learning until his final days. I always found conversations with Richard stimulating, and I would try to get him to talk about his days in World War II. The one television show he would not miss was Jeopardy.

There came a time when Richard began seeing visions of people standing by his bed and having dreams of past events. We discussed those and he shared with me that he was more curious about them than frightened or concerned. Talking with the family after he died, it became clear to me that his mind was actively reviewing his life and processing his memories.

Here is the text I used for the message I gave at Richard’s service, from Genesis 25:

This is the length of Abraham’s life, one hundred seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field…that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.

Of all the hospice patients I’ve had the privilege of meeting, this passage perhaps fits Richard better than any of the others. He died in a good old age, an old man and “full of years” – a profound description that speaks not only of his life’s length but also of its quality.

Richard died a man who had lived a good, full life.

Now he lies next to his “Sarah,” gathered to his people.

And I love the way this text ends: “After the death of Abraham God blessed his son Isaac.”

When we lose good people like Richard from past generations we may feel unequipped to take their place. However, God is with us as he was with our fathers – God is our dwelling place in all generations – and his blessing carries on. It is as available to us as it was to Richard, and it may well be that someday a historian will look back and say, “After the death of Richard, God blessed his family and the people of their generation.”

Richard is not a hero in any spectacular, public sense. But to me, Richard represents the best of Middle America, the people who have been my common grace heroes, the “greatest generation” if you will.

These are the righteous, of whom the wisdom psalm says:

The meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity….
The LORD knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will abide forever.
(Ps. 37:11, 18)

Comments

  1. I appreciate you sharing this story. It is good to hear of a good life, seemingly well lived with a good ending. I think the common hero who gets up every day, goes to work and lives the best they can is what makes the world go round.
    In my life I have met many role models such as Richard but at the time I did not know they were role models and they would never considered themselves that. I personally think the greatest generation was the generation of the start of our nation from 1776 on. However , I do not want that observation to detract from the wonderful story of a good man
    I would surmise that Richard thought his life was great also but would take no credit for his effort to make it so. I enjoyed a good , feel good story well told . thanks

  2. “It’s been said that any nation that forgets its veterans ceases to be a great nation,”

    (retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude “Mick” Kicklighter,
    chairman, Friends of the National World War II Memorial.)

  3. Susan Dumbrell says

    This weekend I am attending a commemmoration service for a relative who was a veteran of WW!.
    He was a veteran of Gallipoli, in Turkey, and later in the conflict in Europe was shot and gassed at Passchendale in Belgium.
    He made it home to Australia but died shortly thereafter of tuberculosis aged 34yo.

    Lest we forget.

    I will meet relatives I never knew I had.
    It should be amazing.
    Susan

    • Good to hear from you, Susan.

      your comment brings to mind that memorial poem
      from Laurence Binyon, this:

      “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
      Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
      At the going down of the sun and in the morning
      We will remember them”

      (an excerpt from ‘The Fallen’)

  4. In some ways it feels like the Greatest Generation represented a standard of maturity, selflessness, responsibility, commitment, etc. that later generations have completely given up on trying to live up to. Instead our culture keeps sliding deeper and deeper into perpetual adolescence – embracing childish behavior as a way of saying to the world, “Don’t demand that I act like an adult! I’m just a big kid.” We’ve given up on expecting men to be men and instead of holding people to a higher standard we go around excusing their behavior with “boys will be boys.” (Of course, that culture of perpetual adolescence affects women too, but the largest effect seems to be on men.)

    • David Cornwell says

      Yes, generational failure since that era. It has taken on a life of its own, like a snowball rolling downhill. And look at what we have become. And I’ll admit, I’m a pessimist when it comes to our future. But the world has always been a tumultuous place. And God’s Kingdom must come to life within us for each of us to be a beacon of hope.

    • Who’s responsibility is it to pass on such standards and values to the following generations?

      It seems like war shapes our narratives far too much. War made people need to take responsibility, because it was life or death. But war doesn’t form people to be able to pass on that responsibility in peace time.

      I’ve witnessed, in my family, far too many brave veterans who served in the military with valor, but had no idea what to do at home.

      Yet we still celebrate the war stories.

      • David Cornwell says

        This is a little late, but I’ll comment anyway. I agree with almost everything you are saying. There is no such thing as a good war. Even during our “good war” we decided to bomb civilian populations. But after that war our leaders did have a vision for the future. I guess all of us to one degree or another are to blame for losing that vision. The wars we’ve been fighting for last 30 or 40 years have no resemblance. We lied our way into them, failed to define a purpose, and had no idea how to get out of them. They have created evil upon evil.

  5. Burro (Mule) says

    I dunno.

    As the father of sons, both of whom exhibit the ‘perpetual adolescence’ you decry, it appears to me that the ‘boys will be boys’ era is pretty much past us. The male role in the new sexual constitution is in flux, and has yet to be solidified. During the Greatest Generation, coming to adulthood as a White Male made you kind of the cock of the walk, and if any responsibilities were tied to it, and they were, they were most certainly counterbalanced by the privileges, such as that your sexual peccadilloes were winked at and swept under the carpet.

    Now, expecting young males to uphold the traditional responsibilities, in addition to the consciousness-raising imposed on them, and the contrition expected of White people, is like expecting employees to work harder for less pay in a job where the requirements change from week to week.

    Among the younger generation of my family, there is one progressive young man who has negotiated a place for his masculinity, but it took six years for my niece to get him to marry her. No incentives until he wanted children.

    • During the Greatest Generation, coming to adulthood as a White Male made you kind of the cock of the walk, and if any responsibilities were tied to it, and they were, they were most certainly counterbalanced by the privileges, such as that your sexual peccadilloes were winked at and swept under the carpet.

      Couldn’t agree more. Back then, for instance, sexual harassment of female employees by male bosses was considered at worst an embarrassment, but most of the time “winked at and swept under the carpet.” Boys will be boys was the way the private club and place of employment were run.

    • Yes, if you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.

      Consider your “oppressed” white male who’s struggling with the fact that he’s been socialized to view women as props to be used and manipulated for his enjoyment, but now he has to worry about consent and the Me Too movement. Is his lot in life really so bad compared to a young person of color who has to worry about being shot by police just because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time? Just because that white male is more fragile and less used to having serious demands placed on him doesn’t make him deserving of special sympathy or excuses.

      Or to use your analogy – if someone for years has been getting paid more than everyone else while doing less work, is it oppression to ask that person to work harder? Do you seriously think that a white person trying to learn about racism has it harder than a person of color having to learn to navigate a racist world? If you’ve been living in sin your whole life and only recently discovered it’s a sin, that doesn’t absolve you of the need to repent and reform your life. And if you run away from the call to repent, you’re running away from God.

  6. senecagriggs says

    The “Zee man” said;
    We’ve given up on expecting men to be men and instead of holding people to a higher standard we go around excusing their behavior with “boys will be boys.” (Of course, that culture of perpetual adolescence affects women too, but the largest effect seems to be on men.)
    __________

    I hold to the theory, men tend not to take on responsibilities they don’t like – unless they have to.

    I also hold to the theory, feminism has actually allowed me to be come even less responsible.
    Feminism has made it MORE LIKELY that “boys will be boys.”

    I’ve thought, for a couple of decades, feminism has turned out to be an awful deal for women, a great deal for immature males.

    • senecagriggss says

      “feminism has allowed MEN to become even less responsible.”

    • –> “I also hold to the theory, feminism has actually allowed me to be come even less responsible.
      Feminism has made it MORE LIKELY that ‘boys will be boys.'”

      Ah, yes, the good old excuse of “If Bathsheba hadn’t been bathing nude on her rooftop, I wouldn’t have… blah, blah blah.”

      Time for people to take responsibility for their own lousy behaviors, dude. Don’t blame feminism for guys acting like irresponsible a-holes.

      • senecagriggs says

        “Dude,” I didn’t come up that. Some feminist I read did “Dude.”

        • Quote… “I hold to the theory…” Your stated position once.
          Quote… “I also hold to the theory…” Your stated position again.

          Don’t play the “I didn’t come up with this” angle, dude. You clearly believe it.

          • senecagriggs says

            Oh I do believe it “Dude.” When I read thinking feminist state this, I knew they were right.

            The more women do, the less men tend to do – outside our interest.

            So men may be very productive at work and totally irresponsible out of the working environment willingly dumping all they can on women.

            • One must ask, then, what “bred” feminism. Poor male behavior in the workplace and in authority, perhaps? Or men telling women that women should remain in the home and take care of babies? It didn’t just spring up and fill a void. There was a reason for it, probably beginning with crappy male behavior over the generations.

        • Would you agree with this statement, Sen:

          “I believe feminism is a cause of males being less responsible these days and more likely that ‘boys will be boys,’ but that doesn’t excuse their poor behavior”…?

          • senecagriggs says

            I would agree with that.

            I do think men tend not to “step up” if they don’t have to.

    • > I hold to the theory, men tend not to take on responsibilities they don’t like – unless they have to.

      Seneca, a society that portrays men as helpless and hapless victims is exactly what enables the “boys will be boys” culture. “Boys will be boys” is nothing but the hiding place of men who have despaired of ever becoming men.

      If kids have a clear and compelling vision of what sort of adult they can be, and are surrounded by others who see and support and draw out that potential in them, they are able to grow into that reality. But if someone is surrounded by a culture that embraces crudeness and immaturity and devalues responsible adulthood, and if they’re constantly bombarded by messages telling them that they will fail in life because they are a victim (e.g. of women or of people of color or of liberal society or whatever) they’re never going to rise to the fullness of what they could be.

    • Christiane says

      Hello Senecagriggs,

      you know, misogyny is on the rise now that trumpism has promoted it, but women aren’t impressed with any of the harassment meant to put them down and glorify the male image as ‘superior’, nope. Not going back to that mess.

      One example of a more outspoken modern human person who happens to be female is this mother of two who sets the record straight on what it means to be a ‘contributor’ of gifts to this country, regardless of those who preach that when women rise, men fall:

      https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2018/01/24/meet-tammy-duckworth-the-double-amputee-iraq-war-veteran-set-to-become-the-first-us-senator-to-give-birth-while-in-office.html

      “U.S Senator who lost both her legs in Iraq slams Trump as a ‘five-deferment draft dodger’
      “This didn’t change who I am,” she explained to Stars and Stripes a year after her injuries. “I’m not about to let some guy who got lucky with an RPG decide how to live my life.””

      So what ARE ‘women’ in this world? I posit that they are complete human beings, made in the image of God and deserving of dignity and respect for that reason alone. Their dignity is secured in their humanity.

      As for the ‘womens is rising, mens falling’ . . . nah, nope . . . take a page from the old slave woman, Sojourner Truth, who spoke these words:

      ” But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them.”

      So, Senecagriggs, ‘feminism’ isn’t women ‘taking over’, no, it’s people ‘becoming’ who God meant for them to be in this world;
      don’t go blaming women who rise to that challenge for the men who go skulking and hide from their war duties and then later brag that it would have been stupid to go to Viet Nam if he could get out of it, which he did. . . .

      ah, well

      maybe it’s time we start behaving like human persons with dignity . . . and stop the ‘labels’ and the ‘put downs’ and the discrimination . . . some will rise to take their place in this world on merit; but when the going gets tough, you can count on those who don’t flinch, who don’t run and find excuses not to face the music.

      Does it matter if the person’s name is ‘Tammy’? So Tammy went to war and Donald ran and hid? Did some woman make young Donald dodge the draft? I don’t think so. It was HIS choice. HE owns it, not any ‘feminist’.

      People need to define who they are in this world, if they have the gifts, the talents, and the opportunities to do that, and, my goodness, the challenges will come. . . . . some of us ‘rise’, others choose to run away . . . sex has nothing to do with courage or the absence of it . . .

      it’s the human heart that’s the inspiration for the word ‘COURAGE’

  7. David Greene says

    Can we all just shut the heck up about all of this generation vs generation nonsense? In my engineering group we have hired a lot of millennials and they work as hard as anyone else and with good attitudes. Besides, I get a bit tired of the stereotyping of my generation, my dad’s generation and the my son’s generation – they were all great. Geez.

    • Norma Cenva says

      I tend to concur David.
      Long ago I heard a Rabbi say that there’s good wine in every generation.
      And it’s true, there really is.
      But anyway, Richard deserves to celebrated, and may he awake to a goodly inheritance in Olam Ha-Ba.

      • –> “Long ago I heard a Rabbi say that there’s good wine in every generation.”

        There’s also good WHINE in every generation. 😉

        • whining christians holler persecution
          cause they cant be as nasty to their despised targets as they wannabe

  8. BTW, that P-40 is a classy looking bird. However, the Japanese Zero was a much better performer.

  9. senecagriggs says

    Christianne, indeed, feminism is NOT about women taking over; it’s about women having to become ever more responsible, work harder and do more. The more they do, the less men tend to do. A lot of men are quite willing to let their women do almost all of the work while men work some, play lots of computer games and leave family responsibilities to the wives – who already work full-time.

    As I said, most men won’t step up if they don’t have to.