A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
It hangs there in the closet..........................there in silent repose.
It hangs there, trying to tell us of the things it has seen and the men that it knew; as I gaze at it wishing it could do just that.
It hangs there; a metaphor of the man who wore it: quiet, strong, understated.
I speak of the dress uniform of my father-in-law; a uniform he wore in George Patton's Third Army in its epic, almost mythological drive across Wesern Europe. Patton was the general who claimed, "I will have no cowards in my army"; a statement that held no fear of admonition for Andy Poellet.
He died last week at ninety one. Andy was my father-in-law and was born in November of 1918, just a few weeks after the Armistice which ended World War One in Churchill's immortal phrase, "on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month". He was raised on a farm in rural Michigan, the quiet strength and wisdom of the soil growing in his bones as surely as their crops grew in the fields. He had vivid and personal memories of The Great Depression; his formative years spent when America was agrarian in its economy and isolationist in its international policy. He would see that change as he grew into adulthood, and participated in America's emergence as a superpower; marching and serving under the great Patton.
The Rhine River forms much of Germany's Western border, and Patton frequently boasted to his men that he would - ah - relieve himself in it when his tanks reached its edge. Andy has a black and white polaroid of the great General doing exactly that; a cherished piece of history in our house, to go along with the uniform and some other treasures. As he reached his end, this man who once marched across Europe could hardly walk across his living room; a poignant reminder of the impact of what Lincoln so eloquently called, "the silent aritllery of time".
He was a member of American Legion Post 25, and as is their habit, members of that Post honored Andy at the visitation with a presentation of colors and the playing of that achingly evocative trumpet solo, Taps. Always I will remember them marching in - physically unsteady but mentally focused on the task of honoring their fallen comrade; their physical bodies no longer the equal of their intrepid character. Always I will remember the widening eyes of my children during this brief but emotion-filled ceremony; their tears, which at my own father's funeral were the tears of young children who would miss their Grandpa, now mixed with the salt of their own emerging awareness.
He was not an educated man by modern standards, but the things he didn't know were of small value.
He knew it was role to provide for his family, be a devoted husband and father, and to be of service to his Church and his community. He loved hunting, fishing, and tromping the acreage of Hemingway's land of the Big Two-Hearted River; Michigan's spectacular Upper Penninsula. Perhaps most of all I will remember Andy's unflagging and uncomplaining service to his wife, Helen. Diagnosed with polysistic kidney disease in the 1960's, years before the modern developments of dialysis, he would serve her and meet her needs on a daily basis for years, all without a murmur of complaint.
I am grateful to Andy for his service to our Country and for his example of manhood. But more so, because he was the kind of father to my wife that has caused her to be in deep mourning for his passing. He was not an afterthought or an annoyance to her in his old age; he was a deeply loved and respected figure who reaped the good of what he poured into Barb through her care of and devotion to him at his end. It was not easy to do this, for he lived hundreds of miles away. But she never thought about whether it was easy or not. She did it because of who he was.
Each day sees the passing of hundreds of "The Greatest", and their numbers dwindle before our eyes.
And we are immeasurably poorer for that passing.