Our beloved Grandpa Charley passed away yesterday.
It was something we knew was coming.
Last week, my father let us know Grandpa Charley was very sick and the descision was made to move him to hospice care.
Updates trickled in via email and phone calls.
On Tuesday, I was sitting in the press room at the Air Force Association conference, on military orders for my annual Air Force Reserve duty, when I got a message from my father. Things weren’t looking good, and my family in Cincinnati was gathering around to say their goodbyes.
He promised to keep me updated.
In another one of those life twists that proves to me that nothing is mere coincidence, just minutes after receiving that note, I left for my next writing assignment that day: to cover a panel of World War II pilots talking about their experiences.
For the next hour, those pilots – who were the same age as Grandpa Charley, who looked and moved just like my grandfather – spoke of their war experiences while based in England, Italy, and the Pacific. And during the last 20 minutes of their panel discussion, they spoke of their gratefulness for their aircraft maintainers. They mentioned how those were always the last men they saw before a mission, and the first they saw to welcome them back, and how they loved those men as if they were brothers.
I sat in the back of that room as they spoke and quietly wept.
Grandpa Charley worked on the bombers during World War II in England.
He was also the father of my stepmother, Linda, but even though we weren’t his biological grandchildren, he welcomed my sisters and me, and loved us, just the same from the very beginning. And of course, that extended to my family as it grew. When Miss C finally arrived, it was with great love and joy Grandpa Charley and Grandma MJ introduced her as their very first great-grandchild.
Grandpa Charley was a classic man of his generation. He came back from World War II, got his education, ran a successful shipping business, built a comfortable house in the suburbs (which they still live in), raised six children, and took care of those around him. He and Grandma MJ were married for 61 years. His world rotated around his family and faith.
He was always kind, loyal, and humble, and never without a smile.
I last saw Grandpa Charley at my father’s surprise retirement party last July. Martin and the girls got to see him just a few weeks ago, when they went out to Ohio while I was in Germany. After we broke the news of Grandpa Charley’s passing to the girls, we spent some time talking about our favorite memories.
There was talk of the times we celebrated holidays together.
Just hanging out together whenever we were in Ohio.
Miss C mentioned how Grandpa Charley always stood at the window with Grandma MJ to wave goodbye to them after a visit.
One of my own special memories with Grandpa Charley was the time I visited him before I left for my deployment in 2007. We went over to the house, and sat around and talked. I think it was my Dad who asked Grandpa Charley what things were like before he left for England, and he told us about a conversation he had with his father.
“He told me that I shouldn’t hate the Germans,” said Grandpa Charley. “He said, never forget your enemies are people, too. And I never forgot that.”
Neither did I.
Later, Dad said that after my news team was attacked in Iraq, he printed out my blog post about it to share with Grandpa Charley and Grandma MJ. He said out of all the people who heard or read about the attack from my father, Grandpa Charley was the most shaken by it, and expressed the most concern about what kind of effect that it was going to have on me when I returned home. For some reason, that really touched me. Out of all my close relatives, Grandpa Charley was the only one who also served in a combat zone. My father was stationed stateside as a Reservist during the Gulf War, and my uncle Ray, who served two tours in Vietnam, died when I was still a toddler. Knowing that Grandpa Charley understood the seriousness of what I was going through was somehow comforting to me.
Maybe that’s why I got teary there on the job as the World War II pilots spoke of the gratitude they had for their fellow Airmen, why it was devastating each time an aircraft didn’t return from a mission, how seriously every person took their job. The dedication. The loyalty. The heart.
As they sat there describing all the things that made those men great, I couldn’t help but think that THAT was Grandpa Charley. They were describing who he was.
Not just during the war, but every single day of his life.
We will miss him so much.