The Name In the Stone
On Living 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 anyone else with the identical identify. Stone Island Outlet I learn about one different man with my title, but 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 on the southern tip of the island. I’d nothing else to do and, since I hadn’t been to the park since transferring to town in 1974, it seemed like a vacation spot that can be interesting. Just how interesting, I had no means of realizing when i left.
August Sundays in New York might be the perfect occasions for town. The psychotherapists are all on vacation — as are their purchasers and most of the opposite professional courses. The city appears nearly deserted, the site visitors mild and, as you progress down into Wall Avenue and the encompassing areas, it turns into just about non-existent. On a bicycle you personal the streets that form the underside of the slim canyons of buildings where, even at mid-day, it continues to be cool with shade. Then you definitely emerge from the streets into the vivid open house 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 individuals on the lawns of Battery Park. Everything is lazy and unhurried.
I’d coasted most of the way down to the Battery that day since, although it appears to be flat, there is a very slight north to south slope in Manhattan. I arrived only a bit hungry and thirsty and obtained one of many dubious Sabaretts sizzling dogs and a chilled coke from the only vendor working the park.
We had been in the midst of what now may be seen as “The Lengthy Peace.”
The twin towers loomed over every part, considered, if they had been considered 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 at the midway level between two world wars. In fact, we didn’t know that on the time. The one warfare we knew of was the Second World Conflict and the background humm of the Chilly Conflict. 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 consideration. It was formed of an immense stone eagle and two parallel rows of granite monoliths about 20 feet huge, 20 feet tall and three feet thick. From a distance you possibly can see that that they had words carved into them from high to bottom. There was additionally 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 many 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 regarded up it dawned on me that the phrases minimize into the stones had been all names. Just names. The names of troopers, sailors and airmen who had met their dying 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 his or her graves — except those within the hearts of these they left behind, and their names carved into these stones that rose up around me.
I read across several rows, moving proper to left, then down a row, and then proper to left. I obtained to the end of the sixth row and went back to the beginning of the seventh row.
At the beginning of the seventh row, I read the title: “Gerard Van der Leun.” My identify. Minimize into the stone amongst a tally of the useless.
When you have an unusual title, there’s nothing that prepares you for seeing it in an inventory of the lifeless on a summer Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don’t really remember the feeling besides to know that, for a lot of long moments, I became chilled.
When that passed, I knew why my title was within the stone. I’d all the time recognized why, but I’d never known about the stone or the names cut into it.
“Gerard Van der Leun” was, in fact, not me. He was another person totally. Somebody who had been born, lived, and died earlier than I used to be 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 in the Second World Conflict. He was certainly one of their three sons. He was lifeless earlier than he was 22 years previous. His body never recovered, the precise time and place of his dying over the Atlantic, unknown.
I used to be always referred to as “Jerry.” “Jerry” shouldn’t be a diminutive of “Gerard.”
As the primary child born after his dying, I was given his title, Gerard. But as a toddler I was by no means known as by that title. I was at all times called “Jerry.” “Jerry” is just not a diminutive of “Gerard.” There are none for that name. However “Jerry” I can be because the mere mention of the identify “Gerard” was enough to ship my grandmother into a dark frame of mind that will last for weeks. This was true, so far as I do know, for all the times of her life and she lived effectively into her 80s.
My grandfather could barely communicate 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 within the Second World Battle on account of a bout of rheumatic fever as a child that left him with the center murmur that will kill him shortly after turning 50, was ashamed he didn’t fight and wouldn’t converse of his brother, Gerard, except to say, “He was an important, brave kid.”
My uncle, the child of the household, spent a yr 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 living relative who’d been in a warfare. He would never communicate of his battle in any respect, but it surely should have been very bad certainly.
… a helmet shot full of holes; a boot with most of a leg nonetheless in it…
I do know this as a result of, when I used to be a teenager, I used to be out in his garage sooner or later and, opening a drawer, I found an old packet of images, grimy with dust on the again beneath a bunch of rusted instruments. The black and white photographs with tough 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, useless Korean soldiers; 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 part with them. At the same time he couldn’t have a 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 give up talking of anything, he never will. His solely remark to me about his brother Gerard echoed that of my father, “He was an incredible child. You can be proud to have his name. Simply don’t use it around Grandma.”
And i didn’t. Nobody in my family ever did. All by means of the years that I used to be rising stone island pink jacket up at dwelling, I used to be “Jerry.”
In time, I left dwelling for the University and, in the style of younger males within the 1960s and since, I came upon rather a lot of new and, to my younger thoughts, wonderful concepts. A minor one of these was that it was time to cease being a ‘Jerry’ — a name I associated for some reason with young men with pink hair, freckles and a gawky resemblance to Howdy Doody. I decided that I would reject my family’s preferences and name myself by my given name, ‘Gerard.’ The truth is, 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 educated 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 by some means potential for Berkeley college students to assume that their attitudes had been as noble and as pure of their minds as they have 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 secure from America.
“Would you want some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
My name change plan went nicely as long as I confined it to my immediate household and my pals on the College. It went so effectively that it made me even stupid sufficient to attempt to extend it to my grandparents during a Thanksgiving at their home.
At some point through the meal, my grandmother said something like, “Would you want some more creamed onions, Jerry ”
And because I was a really egocentric and stupid 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 received to get used to calling me that.”
Immediately, the silence got here into the room. It rose out of the middle of the table and expanded until it reached the walls after which simply dropped down over the room like a big, dark shroud.
No one moved. Very slowly each set of eyes of my household got here round and checked out me. Not offended, however simply wanting. At me. The silence went on. Then my grandmother, whose eyes have been wet, rose from the table and stated, “No. I can’t try 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 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 lengthy that I’d stopped seeing it.
“Folks, Here’s my new workplace! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather walked again to the desk 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-based flying jacket and leaning casually against the fuselage of a bomber. You might 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 workplace! Love, Gerard.”
My grandfather stood behind me as I checked out the picture. “You are not Gerard. You just have his title, but you are not him. That is my son. He’s Gerard. When you don’t mind, we’ll proceed to name you Jerry on this home. Should you do mind, you shouldn’t 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 few minutes he and my grandmother came back to the table. No one else had said a word. We’d just sat there. I used to be wishing to be just about anyplace else in the world than where I was.
They sat down and my grandmother stated, “So, Jerry, would you like some extra creamed onions ”
I nodded, they were passed and the meal went on. My mother and father never said 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 passed.
In 1975, I leaned towards a monument in Battery Park in New York and skim a name lower into stone amongst an inventory of the lifeless. That way back Thanksgiving scene came back to me in all its dreadful element. I tried to grasp what that name in the stone had meant to my household when it became the one 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, however I couldn’t. I used to be a toddler of the lengthy peace who had averted his battle 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 was thirty then and never but a mum or dad. That would come a few years later and, with the delivery of my daughter, I’d at last begin, however only begin, to know.
Right now it makes me feel low-cost and contemptible to think of the issues I did in my youth to point out all of the methods in which this nation fails to attain some fantasied perfection. I was a small part of promulgating a terrific fallacious and a big lie for a very long time, and I’m certain there’s no making up for that. My likelihood to be worthy of the man within the photograph, the identify on the wall, has lengthy since handed and all I can do is to try, 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 Long Warfare, I nonetheless can not declare to know the deep sense of obligation and the strong feeling of honor that drove men just like the uncle I’ve by no means recognized to sacrifice themselves. Lately although, as we move deeper into the Fourth World Struggle, I feel 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 title 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 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 title, however the identify of a man much better than most of us. It’s on the far left column on the third stone in on the appropriate facet of the monument wanting in the direction of 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 can see it, however you can’t contact it. I don’t care who you’re, you’re not that tall.