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Five Minutes with Glenn
© 2014 James LaFond
I would have to say that Glenn was the best man I ever met, the most decent person that I ever got to know. I met this man when I was 14 when visiting his son to play an Eastern Front WWII wargame, Panzerblitz, by Avalon Hill.
As we sat at the table Glenn walked over, looked down at us sacrificing simulated lives at crossroads, and sending chits representing men into battle, rolling dice like the gods of war, shook his head, and retired to the other room to drink his 4 ounces of warm beer.
I had no idea that six years later I would end up marrying his daughter, or that I would choose to name my second son after him.
As our game wound down two male relatives of Glenn came over to visit, something he seemed to dread. There they were the three of them in the next room. Glenn’s son was upset because he knew how cruel the loud man was and how it upset his father when he started talking about ‘the war’.
These men were all veterans of foreign wars.
I’ll call the eldest Ed, a combat infantryman who hit the beach on D-day at Normandy and loved telling war stories, loved talking about the camaraderie, about beating the krauts, and about gang-raping French women. I remember looking up at Glenn’s son and saying, “The French were our allies right—these guys supposedly went there to rescue them from the Nazis?”
Glenn absolutely refused, as the middle brother, to speak of his war experiences, and silently suffered invalidating comments from Ed about being a rear echelon type.
Al, the youngest, fought in Korea, and was part of Bradley’s command when the Chinese crossed the border around Christmas and turned that 'police action' into some kind of apocalyptic war of extermination, like Okinawa on steroids. Al couldn’t bear to spend a moment sober unless he was holding his sister’s hand, and spent his remaining life crying in his beer. Ed had no compassion for Al, who had participated in a stalemate, while he was one of the heroes of a conquering army.
My father had liked his peacetime army experience. My brother would join at the first opportunity. Three of my four step brothers joined, two of them participating in the 1991 Gulf War. My favorite uncle was a Korean vet, who did not seem much bothered by it, but was not an ass like Ed, who, in retrospect, must have been terribly bothered by it.
Ed threw it off onto others.
Al disintegrated under the psychological weight.
Glenn raised a family and worked until he dropped, silently, with dignity, taking more shit than I’ve seen many a lesser man break under. After I began spending time with him as we watched his grandchildren grow I never asked him about his experience. I had come to know some really screwed up Vietnam combat vets and had done much reading, and had enough of an idea concerning the level of pain that he submerged beneath that 4 ounces of warm beer thrice a day, not to bring it on.
When my oldest son considered military service Glenn just looked at me and ground his teeth, a dark pain in his eyes. So I spent hours telling Vance horrible accounts of infantry combat from books I read, and he decided not to join the full time military and did not re-up for the National Guard.
Years later we were watching CNN when footage of Egyptian artillery crews from the first Gulf War formed the backdrop for a report that the Iraqis had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and that continued lack of cooperation with UN inspectors could lead to another war. Glenn ground his teeth—which he wore to nubs over his lifetime doing this in response to mentions of war and the military—and walked outside. I didn’t know that this would be my last talk with Glenn; that his health was on the final slide.
I grabbed him a beer out of the cooler, an entire cold beer, and brought it out to him.
Glenn and I stood on the concrete slab that passed for the porch of the Dundalk brownstone rental that I had moved his daughter and youngest grandson into as our marriage evaporated. Glenn, our youngest, was playing with the adopted greyhound in the nice corner lot yard.
My father-in-law alternately looked down at his feet, out to the clear patch of sky over above the waterfront a mile off, and said this—all he ever related about his war experiences:
“They came and got me out of school. I was a high school kid. They just graduated me when I turned eighteen. Boot Camp, can’t remember any of it, doing what I was told. I was an ambulance driver. D-plus-four I was driving out from Normandy—not a medic really, a driver. I’d stop and pick up the wounded—theirs and ours. I’d hit them with morphine and apply pressure to whatever was blown off, drive them back. Just back and forth driving along that damned road. I picked up the bodies, tried to match the parts, tried to match the tags. Then I found another driver, shot in the head on his knees by a Kraut. The Kraut had been shot by one of ours. We were not supposed to be armed. I picked up that Kraut pistol and kept it with me. Damned near a year watching men die, putting parts together, matching parts to tag—I can’t try on shoes at the store without thinking of the damned feet, tossing the damned feet into the back!”
I just stood and looked at him as compassionately as I could manage. He looked back, then looked at his beer, shook his head, looked at his youngest grandson Glenn playing with his dog, and growled, talking while he grit his teeth, “They don’t drag them out of high school any more. They offer them college.”
He took another drink and considered as he swilled the mouthful. He smacked his lips and whispered, “It killed Al, killed Ed, even though he’s too bullheaded to admit it—killed me.”
Glenn had never told me to do anything. He had asked to see my pay stubs when he came into town the first few years of my marriage to his daughter, which I figured was his right. He had never told me what I should do, and always let me take the lead in any family function.
He raised the hand with the beer in it, pointed his finger at his grandson playing with the white and brindle greyhound and snarled, “Never, never!”
He then splashed the rest of the beer across the grass, looked at me over his shoulder with his eyes totally dilated, and walked calmly inside.
Never have a realized more clearly that I was being told what my responsibilities were, that I was being told what to do.
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Erique     Jul 25, 2014

J, this is extremely well done, powerful piece.
    Jul 25, 2014

I have been wondering for over ten years how I should relate what Glenn's last words were to me. It took me a while to really put our relationship in perspective. In fact, it did not really make sense to me until I became a grandfather.

Glenn did what old men should do.
Dominick     Jul 28, 2014

My grandfather told me all the time to stay out of the military and that war was an abomination against man and god..till his death he talked and shouted in his sleep . My mother confirms this from when she was a child.

I concur, very powerful writing.
    Jul 28, 2014

When my brother and I were 13 and 14 our grandfather stayed home with us while the parents went out. We had just gotten HBO but it was understood to be a channel for adults only. He let us watch a movie titled The Boys of Company C, which had such vile profanity we could not understand why he was letting us watch it.

It was an antiwar war movie. When it was over he said, "Now boys, what did we learn tonight?"

The answer was that 'war sucked'.

Glad you liked it but it kind of wrote itself.
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