The Name Within the Stone
On Residing with the Lack of a Son in Wartime.
My title, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve never met anyone else with the same identify. I learn about one other man with my name, but we’ve by no means met. I’ve seen his title 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 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 shifting to the town in 1974, it appeared like a destination that would be attention-grabbing. Just how fascinating, I had no means of understanding when i left.
August Sundays in New York might be the perfect times for the city. The psychotherapists are all on trip — as are their shoppers and most of the opposite skilled courses. The town seems virtually deserted, the traffic mild and, as you move down into Wall Road and the encompassing areas, it becomes virtually non-existent. On a bicycle you own the streets that type 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 brilliant open space at Battery Park.
Tourists are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A few persons are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of individuals on the lawns of Battery Park. Every part is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way in which all the way down to the Battery that day since, even though it appears to be flat, there’s a really slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived solely a bit hungry and thirsty and obtained one of many dubious Sabaretts hot dogs 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 the whole lot, thought of, if they have been thought of 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 on the midway level between two world wars. In fact, we didn’t know that at the time. The one struggle we knew of was the Second World War and the background humm of the Chilly Struggle. It was a summer time Sunday and we were 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 Cheap Stone Island my consideration. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 toes large, 20 feet tall and three feet thick. From a distance you may see that that they had words carved into them from prime to backside. There was also quite a lot of shade between them so I took my sizzling canine and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the monoliths.
I do not forget that the stone was cool towards my again as I sat there looking at the stone throughout from me on that heat afternoon. As I looked up it dawned on me that the phrases cut into the stones were all names. Simply names. The names of soldiers, sailors and airmen who had met their loss of life within the north Atlantic in WWII. I was 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 those in the hearts of those they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up round me.
I learn across several rows, transferring stone island cap black on black right to left, then down a row, after which right to left. I obtained to the end of the sixth row and went again to the beginning of the seventh row.
Firstly of the seventh row, I read the identify: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My name. Cut into the stone amongst a tally of the lifeless.
If you have an unusual identify, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a listing of the useless on a summer Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling except to know that, for a lot of long moments, I became chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my identify was in the stone. I’d all the time recognized why, but I’d by no means known about the stone or the names reduce into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, in fact, not me. He was another person entirely. 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 Conflict. He was one in every of their three sons. He was lifeless before he was 22 years previous. His physique never recovered, the precise time and place of his demise over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was always referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the primary little one born after his death, I used to be given his name, Gerard. But as a baby I was never called by that identify. I used to be always referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” will not be a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that identify. But “Jerry” I would be as a result of the mere point out of the title “Gerard” was enough to ship my grandmother right into a darkish state of mind that might final for weeks. This was true, as far as I know, for all the days of her life and she lived effectively into her 80s.
My grandfather may barely communicate of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was improper to ask.
My father, who was refused service within the Second World Battle on account of a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the center murmur that will kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t battle and wouldn’t communicate of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was an awesome, brave kid.”
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 conflict first hand. He was my solely residing relative who’d been in a war. He would by no means speak of his battle at all, however it should 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 used to be a teenager, I used to be out in his storage someday and, opening a drawer, I discovered an outdated packet of images, grimy with mud at the again beneath a bunch of rusted tools. The black and white photographs with tough 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 dirty snow that proved to be, on nearer inspection, lifeless Korean troopers; a pile of bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The complete horror show.
My uncle had taken them and couldn’t half with them. At the same time he couldn’t look at them. So he shoved them right into a drawer with other unused junk from his past and left it at that. He never spoke of Korea besides to say it was “rough,” and, now that he has give up speaking of anything, he never will. His only comment to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was an awesome child. You will be proud to have his identify. Simply don’t use it around Grandma.”
And that i didn’t. Nobody in my family ever did. All by means of the years that I used to be growing up at dwelling, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left house for the College and, in the way of younger men in the 1960s and since, I got here upon rather a lot of latest and, to my younger thoughts, wonderful ideas. A minor one of those was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry’ — a reputation I related for some reason with younger men with red hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I determined that I might reject my family’s preferences and name myself by my given title, ‘Gerard.’ In fact, in the callous manner of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I’d insist upon it. I duly knowledgeable my mother and father and would correct them after they lapsed back to ‘Jerry.’
This angle served me nicely sufficient and shortly it appeared I had trained my bothers and my dad and mom in my new name. After all, I’d taken this name not due to who my uncle had been or because of the trigger for which he gave his life, but for the selfish motive that it simply sounded more “dignified” to my ears.
I used to be a student at the College of stone island cap black on black California at Berkeley and it was 1965 and we had no truck with the US army that was “brutally repressing” the folks of Vietnam. We had been silly and young and nothing that has occurred at Berkeley since then has changed the youth and stupidity of its college students. If something, my period at the College simply made it in some way attainable for Berkeley college students to assume that their attitudes have been as noble and as pure in their minds as they have been silly and egocentric in actuality. I was not a “Jerry” but a “Gerard” and I used to be going to make the world protected from America.
“Would you want some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
My name change plan went well so long as I confined it to my quick household and my mates at the University. It went so effectively that it made me even silly enough to strive to extend it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their home.
At some point throughout the meal, my grandmother said one thing like, “Would you like some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
And because I was a really egocentric and silly young man, I checked out her and mentioned, “Grandma, everyone right here is aware of that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve simply bought to get used to calling me that.”
Instantly, the silence came into the room. It rose out of the middle of the desk and expanded till it reached the partitions after which simply dropped down over the room like a big, darkish shroud.
No person moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family got here round and checked out me. Not offended, however just looking. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes had been wet, rose from the desk and said, “No. I can’t do this. 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 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 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 office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked back to the table and really gently handed me the photograph. It confirmed a smooth-faced handsome young flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather flying jacket and leaning casually in opposition to the fuselage of a bomber. You can see the clear plastic in the nose of the airplane just 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 aren’t Gerard. You simply have his title, but you aren’t him. That’s my son. He’s Gerard. Should you don’t mind, we will continue to call you Jerry in this home. Should you do mind, you should not have to return here any more.”
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 few minutes he and my grandmother got here back to the table. No person else had mentioned a word. We’d just sat there. I was wishing to be nearly anyplace else in the world than the place I was.
They sat down and my grandmother said, “So, Jerry, would you like some more creamed onions ”
I nodded, they have been handed and the meal went on. My mother and father never mentioned a word. Not then and not after. And, to their credit, they continued to call me Gerard. However not at my grandparents’ house.
A decade passed.
In 1975, I leaned against a monument in Battery Park in New York and read a reputation lower into stone amongst an inventory of the dead. That way back Thanksgiving scene came again to me in all its dreadful detail. I tried to know what that title within the stone had meant to my family when it turned the only thing that remained of their middle son; a man who’d been swallowed up within the Atlantic during a battle that completed before I drew breath.
I tried to understand what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and parents, but I could not. I used to be a baby of the long peace who had averted his warfare and gone on to make a life that, in some ways, was spent taking-down the issues that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I was thirty then and not yet a mother or father. That would come a couple of years later and, with the beginning of my daughter, I’d finally begin, but solely begin, to know.
At present it makes me really feel low-cost and contemptible to think of the issues I did in my youth to point out all the ways by which this nation fails to realize some fantasied perfection. I used to be a small a part of promulgating an awesome incorrect and a big lie for a long time, and I’m sure there’s no making up for that. My probability to be worthy of the man within the photograph, the title on the wall, has long since passed and all I can do is to strive, indirectly, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Lengthy Battle, I nonetheless can’t claim to grasp the deep sense of responsibility and the strong feeling of honor that drove men like the uncle I’ve never recognized to sacrifice themselves. Lately although, as we move deeper into the Fourth World Struggle, I think that, ultimately, I can in some way dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to provide “the final full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, should do.
Since discovering his identify on the stone in 1975, I’ve been again to that place a lot of occasions. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September eleventh, I made a point of going to the monument as soon as the way in which was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the final time.
But should you go the monument right this moment, you may still see the title within the stone. It’s not my title, but 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 best aspect of the monument looking in direction of the sea. The identify is often in shadow and virtually unattainable to photograph.
Like most of the other names carved into the stone it’s up there very high. You may see it, but you can’t touch it. I don’t care who you might be, you’re not that tall.