Had we simply met at the memorial, I am sure that neither of us would have given the other the time of day.
I showed up, that September 12, 2004 in the sweltering humidity of Washington D.C. dressed in my jean jacket, Birkenstocks and hippie headband bearing a stuffed backpack across my shoulders and a messenger bag slung at my hip, Nalgene bottle dangling even farther down. He arrived wearing his comfortable walking shoes, grey slacks, crisp yellow shirt with the collar popped and a jaunty newsboy cap on his head.
The photos of us show two people from completely separate worlds, bound by blood and generations.
The reality of that day is that it began a realization that has taken me seven years, and his death, to begin to put into perspective.
My Grandfather, Captain James S. Hoolihan Blackhawk Division, a Silver Star honoree, served on the Central European front near the end of its battles in World War II. Though he had written of some of his war-time stories, he rarely spoke of those memories. In fact, when asked to comment on some of these experiences as he neared the end of his life, he stated that he had written about them in his memoirs, and he wasn’t going to say anything else about them.
Those stories, as with many of my grandfather’s compatriots from that generation, are beginning to come to light as the Greatest Generation makes its way nearer and nearer to the Greatest Adventure. The story of Louis Zamperini as characterized in Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption and those heroes depicted in Tom Brokaw’s groundbreaking novel The Greatest Generation. These stories that for so many men and women have haunted their lives
So haunted were they by these tales of lives, loves and opportunities lost that they were unable to forget the faces of those they were thrown into close quarters with. So haunted were they by the lives they had lived filled with prosperity, love and family that so many counterparts of their generation were never able to have that they carried with them on their successes the lives of those they had left behind.
As we meandered slowly around the World War II Memorial that muggy September day, those haunting faces materialized for my grandfather.
“I keep expecting to see someone I know,” he said to me at one point, with that look of his that screamed of witnessing events of decades gone by and thousands of miles over seas.
Though it did not bring forth from him the stories that lay buried within his memory, it gave credence and remembrance to those men he had seen in battle, and never again after that. In true James S. Hoolihan style, he sang a little song and tipped his cap to those brave men, and women I expect too.
The glory of this generation that we are losing day by day cannot simply be evaluated on their saving of and creating of the world we know. They are continuously unafraid of the change that they see coming. They have created the most fearful technology of any generation, and though they don’t