The Last Of the Greatest

I sit at the bedside of the greatest man I have ever known. He is of the greatest generation and that generation will be gone for me very soon. This Staff Sargent was in the army at 16 (Germany 1946), Air Force 1949 including two tours in Korea, and Air Force intelligence working under the NSA. He was twice demoted and returned to Staff Sargent for speaking out against things he did not like.

He believed in God but not religion. He was a patriot but a skeptic.  He was a tough man, but not afraid to chase his grandsons around yelling “I’m going to get me a fraggle!” He believed in solving grievances with a fist, but did not spank children ever. He loved Florida but had no use for the beach. He loved the mountains and met his sweetheart there but did not return until his 80’s. He liked good country food and just assume throw away sandwiches. A decent meal utilized utensils. He disliked extra plates. All cars should be Datsun or Nissan or at least Japanese. Knives are Swiss and tools plentiful.

As I await his passing I think on my life with him.  My father taught me solely about career, but my grandfather laid the foundation for life. I remember once I was angry and said I would hit my mother after being spanked. He had me punch a bear until my arms were tired. He told me “there it’s out now, so we can just forget about that. We never hit girls and never our parents.” “You don’t want to do that. You’re a great guy.” He began lessons like this from the time I was maybe six, which is the age of my son now. He spoke to me as an adult my whole life always explaining things simply but slightly beyond my comprehension. I find myself as I remember his words knowing this was the basis for how I teach my son.

When I had a knee infection as a child he was at the beside with me holding my hand telling me to squeeze it while distracting me from the injection I was yet again to get in my knee. He taught me patience while I was off that knee for nearly a year. We had lessons in life while swinging beneath an oak tree in his back yard. 

He taught me how to deal with bullies saying, “in a group always swing at the biggest, the rest will scatter.” He taught me when knife fighting “watch out for the little guy as he’s faster than tall guys like us” and wedge yourself in a corner if there is more than one if running did not work. Both of these he learned in Puerto Rico watching a sailor fall to some locals. He commented that the sailor died because his pants were too tight; the sailor’s uniform does not lend to weapons.  He was full of seeing simple solutions to tragedies.

He was invited to Mensa after seeing a test and mailed it in. He said it sounded like a group for bragging and had no interest in it. He never went to high school as he was the youngest child and his father died as a result of an accident on an oil rig in Texas. He had to support his mother and was also eager to kill Nazis. He made only meager money before that collecting grass seed. If he could not earn it, he hunted.

He read everything he could. He taught himself algebra, geometry, trigonometry, rudimentary calculus, astronomy, electronics, classical physics, and he studied all forms of history. I had moved him three times in his life and discarded well over 400 books he had read. Some were manuals for trades he never practiced. When asked, he said he just wondered about that and then encouraged me to read the manuals as well. He was a person of theory and did not test or build a working knowledge.

He could recall quotes and lessons from a book he had read several years earlier and the exact page it was on. No one knew of his intelligence but his grandchildren and their spouses. His eccentricities masked his underlying genius. He was never fostered around academics or I believe his scope could have been much more focused and possibly his beliefs more mainstream.  He was radical because he was isolated. He had read much of Greek literature for example but had not heard anyone pronounce the words and nearly always mispronounced foreign words.  He lived in his own head and was isolated because of life: PTSD, war, and introversion. 

As a physician, one would think I have met many great minds; yet he is by far the most intelligent man I have ever met despite 13 years of higher education. He had a superior intellect and a photographic memory that I will never match.

He gave away all money he ever had to family only keeping a few thousand for himself and relying on his pension. He gave away well over $300,000 in his lifetime. He bought a car for me while I went to college, a house for my mother giving up his own, and numerous monthly donations to everyone around him. 

He was a stoic man and an introvert. War shaped him with PTSD to avoid groups. He was a solitary man most of his life until his twilight. Assisted living made him accept community for the first time in his life. He handed over control of his life completely to me after becoming paranoid living alone in Florida. The ghosts of war never really leave you. 

I have asked myself if I could have done better. I should have see him more, brought him to the house more, and taken the kids to his assisted living apartment more. I never got to show him my property in the mountains.  I wonder if I ever told him that he was my hero. I don’t think I did until today. I hope he understood. I am a man of principles, kindness, ethics, stoicism, patience, wonder and rules because of him. I remember all his lessons right along side of great writers that have taught me so much. I know I will never be as pure intentioned as he was or as intelligent. There were no limits to how far he would go to help family. 

This is an end of a geneneration, through the days of writing this the old warrior, grandfather, and best buddy has gone. A generation that went to war for the greater good, had a career to support family, and were true men by birth. We emulate this generation of gentleman in fashion, hobbies, and mindset as a poor imitation of what they were. That is what heroes are for us though. They set an example with faults and all for us to measure ourselves against. We learn from them in youth, compare ourselves in our early adult life, and respect them when it is our turn to carry their torch. He was a man of major impact for the few fortunate people that new him. He truly was the last of the greatest.

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