“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to our country.” The Navy commander kneeled at the funeral of James Buttram and spoke these words to my wife’s mother, as another of the Greatest Generation was laid to rest, last week, at 91 years of age. It was cold and windy as a Navy chief played taps in the distance. The man being honored was also a 52-year veteran of the city fire department and a solid pillar of the community, but to my wife he was just Grandfather. He was a man who showed my wife, as a young girl, how a man was to conduct himself and work hard for his family.
I started dating my wife in high school, and we have been together for 31 years. During those years, my wife’s grandfather was a person a man who had been and, what seemed, would always be in our life. No waiver. Hard working. Dedicated. Loved. Grandfather was the kind of man who many would continue to tell us, on that day, that there would never be another one like him. Even in his mid-80’s he was still showing up at fire calls and helping with hoses and directing trucks and men. There seemed to be no end to someone who fed on the marrow of life. The joy of life was all around him. It was palpable. His smile made you smile. He laughed at himself and told stories of his days running moonshine as a kid in the Great Depression, flying planes as a Navy Airedale during World War II, working on and racing cars, fighting fires, and exactly how many hummingbirds had visited his feeder on a particular day. He buried a son (a veteran of the Vietnam War) and a wife (a WAC veteran of World War II). Life was absorbed by Grandfather and viewed as having pivotal points where a person must dig in and continue forward.
I was not a blood relative of Grandfather, but I felt that he was mine. I will miss sitting on the porch with him and waiting on hummingbirds. I will miss speaking to a man who was a definite card-carrying member of the Greatest Generation. They are dying at a rapid pace, these days. Before long, the entire generation will only be a memory. The absolute irony is that the Greatest Generation would never want that title. They worked hard, loved their country, loved their family, and expected (nor wanted) a pat on the back. Our nation owes so much to men like Grandfather.