The Identify In the Stone
On Dwelling 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 name, 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 Metropolis 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 moving to the town in 1974, it appeared like a destination that could be attention-grabbing. Just how attention-grabbing, I had no means of realizing when i left.
August Sundays in New York can be the best times for the city. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their purchasers and most of the opposite professional courses. The city seems nearly deserted, the site visitors mild and, as you move down into Wall Avenue and the surrounding areas, it turns into virtually non-existent. On a bicycle you personal the streets that type the bottom of the narrow canyons of buildings the place, even at mid-day, it continues to be cool with shade. Then you definately 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 people 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 best way all the way down to the Battery that day since, although it seems to be flat, there’s a really slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived solely a bit hungry and thirsty and bought one of the dubious Sabaretts hot canine and a chilled coke from the one vendor working the park.
We had been in the midst of what now could be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over all the pieces, thought of, in the event that they had been thought of at all, as an irritation in that they blocked off a lot of the sky. It was 1975 and, Vietnam not withstanding, America was just about at the midway level between two world wars. After all, we didn’t know that at the time. The only struggle we knew of was the Second World Battle and the background humm of the Cold Battle. It was a summer time Sunday and we had been in the midst of what now could be seen as “The Lengthy 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 toes extensive, 20 toes tall and three toes thick. From a distance you would see that that they had words carved into them from top to bottom. There was additionally lots of shade between them so I took my sizzling dog and my coke and wheeled my bike over, sitting down at random among the monoliths.
I keep in mind that the stone was cool towards my again as I sat there wanting at the stone across from me on that warm afternoon. As I looked up it dawned on me that the words cut into the stones were all names. Simply names. The names of troopers, sailors and airmen who had met their loss of life within the north Atlantic in WWII. I used to be to study later that there were four,601 names. All misplaced in the frigid waters, all with none marker for their graves — except these within the hearts of these they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up round me.
I learn across several rows, moving proper to left, then down a row, and then proper to left. I bought to the end of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
Firstly of the seventh row, I read the title: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My name. Reduce into the stone amongst a tally of the useless.
You probably have an unusual identify, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a listing of the dead on a summer season 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 name was in the stone. I’d all the time known why, however I’d by no means identified concerning the stone or the names minimize into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, after all, not me. He was another person solely. 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 within the Second World Battle. He was one of their three sons. He was dead before he was 22 years old. His physique by no means recovered, the precise time and place of his loss of life over the Atlantic, unknown.
I was at all times called “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. However as a toddler I was by no means referred to as by that identify. I used to be always referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” shouldn’t 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 name “Gerard” was enough to ship my grandmother into a dark way of thinking that may final for weeks. This was true, as far as I know, for all the times of her life and she lived well into her 80s.
My grandfather may barely converse of Gerard and, being Dutch, his sullen reticence let all of us know very early that it was incorrect to ask.
My father, who was refused service in the Second World Struggle as a result of a bout of rheumatic fever as a toddler that left him with the heart murmur that might kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t fight and wouldn’t speak of his brother, Gerard, besides to say, “He was a fantastic, brave child.”
My uncle, the baby 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 warfare first hand. He was my solely living relative who’d been in a battle. He would by no means converse of his struggle at all, however it will need to have been very bad certainly.
… a helmet shot filled 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 used to be out in his storage at some point and, opening a drawer, I discovered an previous packet of pictures, grimy with mud at the back underneath a bunch of rusted tools. The black and white pictures with tough perforated edges showed 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 closer inspection, lifeless Korean troopers; a pile of bodies on a white snowbank with black patches of blood seeping into it. The total horror show.
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 right into a drawer with different 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 quit speaking of anything, he by no means will. His solely remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was an important child. You could be proud to have his identify. Simply don’t use it around Grandma.”
And i didn’t. Nobody in my household ever Stone Island Accessories did. stone island usa All by means of the years that I was rising up at dwelling, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left dwelling for the University and, in the way of younger males within the 1960s and since, I came upon quite a bit of new and, to my young mind, glorious concepts. A minor one of these was that it was time to stop being a ‘Jerry’ — a reputation I related for some purpose with young men with pink hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy stone island usa Doody. I decided that I would reject my family’s preferences and name myself by my given name, ‘Gerard.’ In truth, within the callous method of heedless boys on the verge of adulthood, I’d insist upon it. I duly informed my dad and mom and would correct them once they lapsed again to ‘Jerry.’
This attitude served me nicely enough and soon it seemed I had trained my bothers and my mother and father in my new title. After all, I’d taken this identify not because of who my uncle had been or due to the trigger for which he gave his life, however for the egocentric reason that it simply sounded more “dignified” to my ears.
I was a scholar on the College of 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 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 era on the College just made it somehow potential for Berkeley college students to assume that their attitudes were as noble and as pure of their minds as they had been silly and selfish in reality. I used to be no longer a “Jerry” but a “Gerard” and I used to be going to make the world safe from America.
“Would you like some extra creamed onions, Jerry ”
My title change plan went effectively so long as I confined it to my speedy household and my mates on the College. It went so well that it made me even stupid sufficient to try to increase it to my grandparents throughout a Thanksgiving at their residence.
Sooner or later in the course of the meal, my grandmother mentioned something like, “Would you want some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
And because I was a really egocentric and stupid younger man, I looked at her and said, “Grandma, everybody here knows that I’m not Jerry any longer. I’m Gerard and you’ve simply obtained to get used to calling me that.”
Instantly, the silence came into the room. It rose out of the center of the desk and expanded till it reached the partitions and then simply dropped down over the room like a big, dark shroud.
Nobody moved. Very slowly each set of eyes of my family got here round and looked at me. Not angry, but just wanting. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes have been wet, rose from the desk 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 until 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 office! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked again to the table and very gently handed me the photograph. It showed a easy-confronted handsome younger 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 could see the clear plastic within the nose of the airplane just above his head to his right. On the image, was the inscription: “Folks, Here’s my new workplace! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I checked out the image. “You usually are not Gerard. You simply have his title, but you are not him. That’s my son. He is Gerard. In case you don’t mind, we’ll proceed to name you Jerry on this home. In the event you do mind, you wouldn’t 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 few minutes he and my grandmother came back to the table. Nobody else had stated a phrase. We’d just sat there. I used to be wishing to be just about anyplace else on the earth than where I was.
They sat down and my grandmother mentioned, “So, Jerry, would you like some extra creamed onions ”
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My dad and mom by no means stated a word. Not then and not after. And, to their credit score, they continued to call me Gerard. However not at my grandparents’ home.
A decade handed.
In 1975, I leaned in opposition to a monument in Battery Park in New York and browse a name cut into stone amongst an inventory of the dead. That long ago Thanksgiving scene came back to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to know what that identify in the stone had meant to my family when it turned the one thing that remained of their middle son; a man who’d been swallowed up within the Atlantic during a conflict that finished earlier than I drew breath.
I tried to know what such a sacrifice meant to my grandparents and dad and mom, but I could not. I was a toddler of the lengthy peace who had averted his conflict and gone on to make a life that, in some 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 mum or dad. That may come a couple of years later and, with the delivery of my daughter, I would at last begin, however solely start, to understand.
Immediately it makes me feel low-cost and contemptible to think of the issues I did in my youth to point out all the methods in which this country fails to attain some fantasied perfection. I was a small a part of promulgating a great flawed and a big lie for a very long time, and I’m positive 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 handed and all I can do is to try, in some way, to make what small amends I can.
Remembering these long ago moments now as we linger on the cusp of the Long Struggle, I nonetheless can’t declare to know the deep sense of obligation and the strong feeling of honor that drove men just like the uncle I’ve never identified to sacrifice themselves. Lately although, as we move deeper into the Fourth World Struggle, I feel that, at last, I can in some way 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 again to that place a lot of times. I as soon as took my daughter there.
After September eleventh, I made some extent of going to the monument as quickly as the best way was cleared, someday in 2002. It was for the final time.
However in the event you go the monument at present, you’ll be able to nonetheless see the identify in the stone. It’s not my name, however the identify of a man significantly better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the appropriate aspect of the monument wanting towards the sea. The identify is often in shadow and nearly not possible to photograph.
Like most of the other names carved into the stone it’s up there very high. You may see it, however you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you are, you’re not that tall.