*I am choosing to repost this blog today because this story so succinctly encapsulates Jack's latest journey and his fearless approach to moving forward, even when it means going alone. There is supplemental material at the end of this post.
My grandfather-in-law is 87 years-old. If you count only the years of lucid cognition and possible recall, he has, at minimum, 77 years worth of stories, anecdotes and ponderances to share. And, in his twilight years, he is still happy to have a captive audience...a room full of friends and family works just fine. His heartfelt recollections always enthrall. I'm not sure I know a single individual who has seen or done more in his or her lifetime, so now and again, I hope to bring you a snippet from his verbal history. His name is Jack, and that is what my husband has always called him. It has recently been revealed that this was at Jack's own request. He was not Grandpa, Papa or Pops. Just Jack - as unique in his choice of patriarchal title as in his very identity. A true blessing of a man.
This is how Jack enlisted in the Navy, as best I can recount it.
There was only one high school in Shelby County, Alabama, and it was aptly named Shelby County High School. It was war time, World War II to be exact, and military recruiters were common visitors to high school campuses. At Shelby County High School, the most frequent guest was a U.S. Navy recruiter. He stopped in fairly often to take a van full of eager future soldiers out for ice cream. He'd buy them a cone and tell them about the pride and joy found in serving one's country. They would listen intently and spend the ride home discussing which branch of the military they thought they might like best.
The youngest of those boys was a fellow named Jack. A high school graduate at just 17, Jack was enthused about signing up to serve his country. On one of the trips to town with the Navy recruiter, Jack and his friends made a plan. They would all meet the recruiter at City Hall a few days later to make the short trip with him to Birmingham...the city where they would have their physical check-ups, sign on the dotted line, and get their marching orders. There was safety in numbers. As long as they were together, there was no need to fear.
When the day came to join the Navy recruiter at City Hall, Jack was prompt and prepared. The recruiter shook his hand and welcomed him to the brotherhood. Then, they waited. They waited, and they waited, and the waited some more. The Navy recruiter looked at his watch. If they were going to make the trip, they would need to get going. They were Birmingham bound, and it appeared, Jack would be the only passenger.
Doubtless, the Navy recruiter expected Jack to turn tail and head back home. But spry then as he is today, Jack's simple response was, "well...let's go then."
At the recruitment station in Birmingham, the boys were ordered to "fall in" alphabetically as best they could. They were each issued a basic, hurried physical check-up, then handed their orders. Jack had befriended the young man whose last name came just before his, so despite his abandonment back in Shelby County, he would not be headed for Corpus Christi, Texas alone. No quicker than he could think, blink or wink, Jack was on a southbound train, en route to the Lonestar State, on the verge of the greatest adventure he had ever known. And, he could already account for one lifelong friend.
Jack eventually found himself in the South Pacific...a member of an elite group of night fliers called the "Black Cats". He keeps in close contact with many of his Navy buddies, though they are scattered across the United States. Some of them have already passed on, but they are well-remembered by those who survive them. Jack and his lovely, red-headed wife Eleanor made frequent trips to Naval reunions over the years...keeping the memories and friendships alive that were born in the midst of so much turmoil. Jack has been lucky. His "family" stretches from coast to coast....from sea to shining sea.
Whether Jack's Shelby County buddies ever found their way to a recruitment center or not, I do not know. But, I do know that Jack would not begrudge them their decisions one way or another. When Jack arrived at City Hall that warm, late spring day he had already made up his mind to go, independent of his friends. To use his exact words: "They weren't ready yet. I was ready."
May we all, at one time or another, be so self-assured and fearless in the face of a tremendous challenge as that. Jack faces many challenges nowadays as well, but his approach is still the same: set a course and sail it. There are simply no two ways about it.
*Jack embarked on one of his greatest journeys this morning, when he left this world behind for good...though his memory and spirit will remain here with those of us who knew and loved him, even for a short time. Always fearless, Jack has known for quite some time that this date was approaching. Somewhere deep within his soul, he circled that day on his calendar and confirmed directly with God his travel plans and itinerary. God approved, but this time, He informed Jack, that while he may be plotting a solo course, he would not be alone at his send off. He would be surrounded by the family that loved and respected him so much.
Such was the case this morning. Today, this world lost a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and hero. Whatever your idea of Heaven may be, Jack is there - with a freshly packed pipe, a fifth of Jack Daniels and accompanied by his beloved four-legged gal pal, Katie, who went before him. He will reunite with many of the fellows he served his country alongside, and they will undoubtedly share stories...laughing until their eyes fill with happy tears. He'll hug his momma and daddy again. He can cast aside that three-footed cane he never liked much. His back won't hurt anymore. There will be no more surgeries. No more physical therapy.
Jack, because I know you can see, hear and feel what we here below are sending up your way, know that you touched not only my life with your kindness, wit and generosity but the lives of everyone I brought in contact with you. My dad wants you to know you were one of his great heroes. He has said as much to me at least a dozen times. And, I promise - Matt and I will pick your grapefruit faithfully, even the ones on the highest branches. Or, maybe you could toss 'em down to us. If you're not too busy.