The Name Within the Stone
On Living with the Lack of a Son in Wartime.
My identify, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve by no means met anyone else with the identical name. I find out about one different man with my title, however we’ve by no means met. I’ve seen his name in an unusual place. That is the story of how that occurred.
It was an August Sunday in New York City 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 shifting to the town in 1974, it appeared like a destination that would be fascinating. Simply how interesting, I had no approach of realizing when i left.
August Sundays in New York might be the perfect occasions for the town. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their purchasers and most of the opposite skilled courses. The town seems virtually deserted, the visitors light and, as you move down into Wall Road and the encircling areas, it turns into virtually non-existent. On a bicycle you own the streets that type the underside of the narrow canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it remains to be cool with shade. Then you definately emerge from the streets into the shiny open area at Battery Park.
Tourists are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Just a few individuals are coming and going from the Staten Island Ferry terminal. There are some scattered clots of people on the lawns of Battery Park. Every little thing is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way in which all the way down to the Battery that day since, though it seems to be flat, there’s a very slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived solely a bit hungry and thirsty and received one of the dubious Sabaretts sizzling dogs and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
We were within the midst of what now will be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over everything, considered, in the event that they have been considered at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off so much of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was nearly at the midway point between two world wars. After all, we didn’t know that at the time. The only conflict we knew of was the Second World Battle and the background humm of the Cold Conflict. It was a summer season Sunday and we have been within the midst of what now could be seen as “The Long Peace.”
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 ft broad, 20 toes tall and 3 toes thick. From a distance you may see that that they had phrases carved into them from prime to bottom. There was additionally quite a lot of shade between them so I took my sizzling dog and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the many monoliths.
I do not forget that the stone was cool in opposition to my again as I sat there wanting on the stone across from me on that warm afternoon. As I looked up it dawned on me that the phrases reduce into the stones were 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 was to learn later that there have been 4,601 names. All lost in the frigid waters, all with none marker for their graves — besides those in 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, after which proper to left. I obtained to the tip of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
Firstly of the seventh row, I learn the identify: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My identify. Reduce into the stone amongst a tally of the dead.
In case you have an unusual title, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in an inventory of the useless on a summer season Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t actually remember the feeling except to know that, for many long moments, I became chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my name was in the stone. I’d all the time recognized why, however I’d by no means recognized concerning the stone or the names reduce into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, in fact, not me. He was someone else entirely. Somebody who had been born, lived, and died earlier than I used to be even conceived.
Gerard Van der Leun was my father’s middle brother. He was what my family had given to stop Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide in the Second World Struggle. He was one in all their three sons. He was lifeless earlier than he was 22 years old. His physique by no means recovered, the exact time and place of his demise over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was at all times referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” just isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the first baby born after his loss of life, I used to be given his identify, Gerard. But as a baby I used to be never referred to as by that identify. I used to be always called “Jerry.” “Jerry” shouldn’t 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 enough to send my grandmother into a darkish way of thinking that may last for weeks. This was true, as far as I do know, for all the times 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 in the Second World Conflict resulting from a bout of rheumatic fever as a baby that left him with the guts murmur that may kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t combat and wouldn’t converse of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was an ideal, brave child.”
My uncle, the baby of the family, spent a year or two of his youth freezing on the Inchon peninsula in Korea and seeing the worst of that conflict first hand. He was my only dwelling relative who’d been in a struggle. He would never converse of his warfare at all, but it surely will stone island junior jackets cheap need to have been very dangerous indeed.
… a helmet shot stuffed with holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it…
I know this because, when I was a teenager, I used to be out in his garage at some point and, opening a drawer, I discovered an old packet of photographs, grimy with dust on the back below a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white images with rough perforated edges showed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot filled with holes; a boot with most of a leg still in it, some crumpled heaps of clothing on patches of soiled snow that proved to be, on nearer inspection, dead Korean troopers; a pile of our 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 part with them. At the identical 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 never spoke of Korea except to say it was stone island junior jackets cheap “rough,” and, now that he has quit speaking of something, he never will. His only remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was a fantastic kid. You might be proud to have his name. Just don’t use it round Grandma.”
And i didn’t. No one in my household ever did. All by the years that I was growing up at home, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left home for the University and, in the manner of young males within the 1960s and since, I came upon lots of new and, to my younger mind, excellent ideas. A minor one of these was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry’ — a name I associated for some motive with young males with red hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I determined that I’d reject my family’s preferences and call myself by my given name, ‘Gerard.’ In reality, within the callous method of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I would insist upon it. I duly informed my mother and father and would right them when they lapsed again to ‘Jerry.’
This attitude served me effectively sufficient and shortly it appeared I had educated my bothers and my mother and father 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, however for the selfish motive that it merely sounded extra “dignified” to my ears.
I used to be a scholar at the College 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 have been stupid and young and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has changed the youth and stupidity of its students. If anything, my era at the University just made it in some way doable for Berkeley students to think that their attitudes have been as noble and as pure in their minds as they have been silly and selfish in actuality. I was not a “Jerry” however a “Gerard” and I was going to make the world protected from America.
“Would you like some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
My name change plan went effectively so long as I confined it to my speedy household and my buddies on the University. It went so properly that it made me even stupid enough to strive to extend it to my grandparents throughout a Thanksgiving at their house.
In some unspecified time in the future in the course of the meal, my grandmother mentioned something like, “Would you want some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
And since I was a really selfish and silly younger man, I looked at her and said, “Grandma, everybody 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 table and expanded till it reached the partitions after which simply dropped down over the room like a big, dark shroud.
No one moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my household got here around and looked at me. Not offended, however just trying. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes had been wet, rose from the desk and stated, “No. I can’t try this. 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 till 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 desk and very gently handed me the photograph. It confirmed a smooth-faced handsome younger flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather flying jacket and leaning casually towards the fuselage of a bomber. You would see the clear plastic within the nostril of the aircraft 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 will not be Gerard. You just have his identify, but you aren’t him. That’s my son. He’s Gerard. If you happen to don’t mind, we are going to continue to call you Jerry on this house. Should you do thoughts, you do not have to come right 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 again to the table. No person else had mentioned a phrase. We’d simply sat there. I was wishing to be just about anyplace else on the earth than the place I was.
They sat down and my grandmother stated, “So, Jerry, would you like some extra creamed onions ”
I nodded, they had been passed and the meal went on. My dad and mom by no means stated a phrase. Not then and never after. And, to their credit score, they continued to call me Gerard. But not at my grandparents’ home.
A decade handed.
In 1975, I leaned towards a monument in Battery Park in New York and browse a reputation minimize into stone among an inventory of the lifeless. That long ago Thanksgiving scene got here again to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to know what that identify within the stone had meant to my household when it grew to become the one thing that remained of their center son; a man who’d been swallowed up in the Atlantic throughout a battle that finished earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to know what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and parents, however I could not. I used to be a toddler of the lengthy peace who had avoided his war 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 used to be thirty then and not yet a parent. That would come a number of years later and, with the start of my daughter, I’d ultimately start, however solely begin, to understand.
As we speak it makes me really feel cheap and contemptible to think of the things I did in my youth to point out all the methods wherein this country fails to achieve some fantasied perfection. I was a small part of promulgating an excellent mistaken and a big lie for a very long time, and I’m positive there’s no making up for Stone Island Outlet that. My chance to be worthy of the man in the photograph, the name on the wall, has lengthy since handed and all I can do is to try, ultimately, 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 claim to know the deep sense of duty and the robust feeling of honor that drove males just like the uncle I’ve by no means known to sacrifice themselves. Currently though, as we transfer deeper into the Fourth World Struggle, I feel that, at last, I can someway dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to present “the last full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, will have to do.
Since discovering his title on the stone in 1975, I’ve been again to that place quite a few times. I once took my daughter there.
After September 11th, I made some extent of going to the monument as quickly as the way was cleared, someday in 2002. It was for the last time.
However for those who go the monument at present, you’ll be able to nonetheless see the name within the stone. It’s not my name, but 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 precise facet of the monument looking in the direction of the sea. The name is usually in shadow and nearly impossible to photograph.
Like most of the other names carved into the stone it’s up there very high. You can see it, but you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you are, you’re not that tall.