The Identify Within the Stone
On Residing with the Loss of a Son in Wartime.
My title, “Gerard Van der Leun,” is an unusual one. So unusual, I’ve by no means met anybody else with the same title. I learn about one different man with my identify, however we’ve by no means 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 Metropolis 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 city in 1974, it appeared like a vacation spot that would be interesting. Just how attention-grabbing, I had no way of knowing once i left.
August Sundays in New York may be the most effective times for the town. The psychotherapists are all on trip — as are their purchasers and most of the opposite skilled courses. Town seems almost deserted, the traffic mild and, as you progress down into Wall Road and the encircling areas, it becomes virtually non-existent. On a bicycle you own the streets that kind the bottom of the slim canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it is still cool with shade. You then emerge from the streets into the shiny open space at Battery Park.
Vacationers are lining up for Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. A couple of 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 seems to be flat, there may be a really slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and bought one of many dubious Sabaretts sizzling 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 all the things, thought of, if they were 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. After all, we didn’t know that at the time. The only conflict we knew of was the Second World Conflict and the background humm of the Cold Struggle. It was a summer time Sunday and we were within the midst of what now might be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
In entrance 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 toes huge, 20 ft tall and three feet thick. From a distance you might see that that they had words carved into them from top to backside. There was additionally quite a lot of shade between them so I took my hot 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 against my back as I sat there looking at the stone across from me on that heat afternoon. As I regarded up it dawned on me that the words reduce into the stones have been all names. Just names. The names of troopers, sailors and airmen who had met their death in the north Atlantic in WWII. I was to be taught later that there were 4,601 names. All misplaced in the frigid waters, all without any marker for their graves — except those within the hearts of those they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up round me.
I learn across a number of rows, transferring proper to left, then down a row, after which right to left. I acquired to the tip of the sixth row and went again to the beginning of the seventh row.
Initially of the seventh row, I read the title: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My name. Cut into the stone amongst a tally of the useless.
When you’ve got an unusual identify, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a list of the dead on a summer time Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling besides to know that, for many long moments, I grew to become chilled.
When that handed, I knew why my title was in the stone. I’d always identified why, but I’d by no means known in regards to the stone or the names lower into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, after all, not me. He was someone else completely. Someone 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 household had given to cease Fascism, Totalitarianism and Genocide in the Second World Warfare. He was considered one of their three sons. He was useless before he was 22 years previous. His body by no means recovered, the exact time and place of his loss of life over the Atlantic, unknown.
I used to be always called “Jerry.” “Jerry” will not be a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the first child born after his death, I was given his title, Gerard. However as a child I used to be by no means known as by that title. I used to be at all times known as “Jerry.” “Jerry” isn’t a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that name. But “Jerry” I would be because the mere point out of the identify “Gerard” was enough to send my grandmother into a dark mind-set that might last for weeks. This was true, so far as I know, for all the times of her life and she lived nicely 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 wrong to ask.
My father, who was refused service within the Second World Struggle as a consequence of a bout of rheumatic fever as a toddler that left him with the guts murmur that may kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t struggle and wouldn’t communicate of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was an ideal, brave kid.”
My uncle, the baby 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 conflict first hand. He was my solely dwelling relative who’d been in a war. He would never converse of his warfare at all, but it surely should have been very unhealthy certainly.
… 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 outdated packet of images, grimy with mud at the back beneath a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white images with rough perforated edges showed some very disturbing things: a helmet shot stuffed 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, lifeless Korean troopers; a pile of 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 same time he couldn’t 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 “rough,” and, now that he has quit talking of something, he never will. His only remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was an amazing kid. You might be proud to have his identify. Just don’t use it around Grandma.”
And that i didn’t. No one in my family ever did. All via the years that I was growing up at dwelling, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left house for the College and, in the manner of young men within the 1960s and since, stone island vintage coat I came upon lots of recent and, to my young mind, excellent ideas. A minor one of these was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry’ — a reputation I associated for some purpose with young men with red 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 title, ‘Gerard.’ In reality, 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 right them when they lapsed back to ‘Jerry.’
This attitude served me nicely enough and shortly it seemed I had skilled my bothers and my parents in my new title. Of course, I’d taken this title not because of who my uncle had been or due to the cause for which he gave his life, but for the egocentric cause that it merely sounded more “dignified” to my ears.
I was a student 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 people of Vietnam. We had been stupid and younger and nothing that has happened at Berkeley since then has modified the youth and stupidity of its college students. If something, my period at the College just made it somehow possible for Berkeley college students to suppose that their attitudes have been as noble and as pure of their minds as they were stupid and egocentric in actuality. I used to be no longer a “Jerry” but a “Gerard” and I was going to make the world protected from America.
“Would you like some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
My title change plan went properly as long as I confined it to my fast family and my buddies on the University. It went so well that it made me even silly enough to strive to increase it to my grandparents throughout a Thanksgiving at their residence.
Sooner or later throughout the meal, my grandmother stated something like, “Would you like some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
And because I was a very selfish and silly younger man, I looked at her and said, “Grandma, everyone right here knows that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve just acquired to get used to calling me that.”
Immediately, the silence got here into the room. It rose out of the middle of the desk and expanded till it reached the walls and then just dropped down over the room like a large, dark shroud.
No person moved. Very slowly every set of eyes of my family got here around and checked out me. Not offended, but just wanting. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes were wet, rose from the table and stated, “No. I can’t do this. I just can’t.” She left the table 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 subsequent to a framed gold star. It had been in that place so long that I’d stopped seeing it.
“Folks, Here’s my new workplace! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked again to the table and very gently handed me the photograph. It showed a smooth-confronted handsome young flyer with an open smile. He was dressed in fleece-lined leather-based flying jacket and leaning casually in opposition to the fuselage of a bomber. You might see the clear plastic within the nose of the aircraft just above his head to his proper. On the picture, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new workplace! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I checked out the picture. “You should not Gerard. You simply have his name, however you are not him. That is my son. He is Gerard. For those who don’t thoughts, we’ll proceed to name you Jerry on this house. For those who do mind, you would not have to come back right here any extra.”
Then he took the picture away and put it back 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 desk. No one else had stated a word. We’d simply sat there. I used to be wishing to be just about anyplace else on the planet than where I used to be.
They sat down and my grandmother said, “So, Jerry, would you want some extra creamed onions ”
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My parents by no means mentioned a phrase. 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 skim a name cut into stone among a list of the useless. That long ago Thanksgiving scene got here back to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to grasp what that name 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 within the Atlantic during a war that completed earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to grasp what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and parents, but I could not. I used to be a baby of the lengthy peace who had averted his warfare and gone on to make a life that, in many ways, was spent taking-down the issues that my namesake had given his life to preserve. I used to be thirty then and not but a guardian. That would come a few years later and, with the birth of my daughter, I might at last begin, but solely begin, to grasp.
Today it makes me feel low cost and contemptible to think of the issues I did in my youth to point out all of the ways wherein this country fails to attain some fantasied perfection. I used to be a small a part of promulgating a fantastic improper and a big lie for a long time, and I’m sure there’s no making up for that. My likelihood to be worthy of the man within the photograph, the identify on the wall, has long since passed and all I can do is to attempt, in a roundabout way, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Lengthy War, I still can not declare to know the deep sense of obligation and the strong feeling of honor that drove men like the uncle I’ve never recognized to sacrifice themselves. Recently although, as we move deeper into the Fourth World Conflict, I think that, finally, I can somehow dimly see the outlines of what it was that moved them to give “the final full measure of devotion.” And that, for now, should do.
Since finding his name on the stone in 1975, I’ve been again to that place a number of instances. I once took my daughter there.
After September 11th, I made a point of going to the monument as soon as the best way was cleared, sometime in 2002. It was for the last time.
But if you happen to go the monument immediately, you’ll be able to still see the identify within the stone. It’s not my identify, however the name of a man a lot better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the right side of the monument wanting towards the sea. The name is normally in shadow and nearly not possible to photograph.
Like most of the opposite names carved into the stone it’s up there very excessive. You may see it, however you can’t touch it. I don’t care who you might be, you’re not that tall.