Ghostwood Farm


George and Frank. And George again.
July 23, 2017, 10:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

One

Not long after we moved to Bloomington, the Monroe County Library put on a program about Iwo Jima. Being extremely interested in military history (especially the Pacific Theater of WWII, where my grandfather served throughout the war), we attended.

The program consisted of two veterans of the battle (Frank and George), talking about their experiences. It was, as you might expect, harrowing and powerful to listen to these two gentlemen discuss their experiences.

At the end of the program, Frank said something I hope I never forget (I have to paraphrase, of course). He was crying as he told the crowd that he was afraid to face God, because the Bible clearly says “Thou shalt not kill,” and he had killed a lot of men.

I was so angry, even as I cried for him. Here was a man who was nearly 90, afraid to die because he thought God would be disappointed in him or angry with him. This is the power of religion, folks. But I digress.

Two

When I was in college (in the early 1990s, so forever ago, now), I knew a guy (Ben) who had been in rabbinical school in Israel. We had a class together (plant taxonomy, I think). He told me once, as he described how he realized he didn’t believe in God, that the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is a mistranslation. Anyone who has read the Old Testament knows that the Hebrew God wasn’t exactly pro-life. Ben told me that the correct translation is “Thou shalt not murder.”

Murdering is obviously a subset of killing (all murders are killings but not all killings are murders).  But a prohibition against murder is not a prohibition against killing.

As I sat in the library that day, watching Frank talk, I just wanted to tell him what Ben had told me eleven years earlier, abut murder and killing. Because most likely what Frank did on Iwo Jima was not murder. Not that it isn’t possible, I suppose, but killing in battle to save your life and the lives of your comrades? That is not murder.

But I didn’t tell him that. Who was I to do so? Why would he have believed me? I have always regretted not talking to him, just on the off chance that I could have eased his mind.

Three

Fast forward a few years. When Melissa was pregnant with Iain, we took a birth class at a local organization called Bloomington Area Birth Services (BABS). After the first class, I couldn’t believe what we had gotten ourselves into–buncha damn hippies! But by the end of the series, we learned a tremendous amount, made some friends, and came to see just how important the organization was to the community.

The founder and executive director of BABS came to be a great friend of ours. Georg’ann is passionate about helping families have the healthiest babies possible and giving mothers a voice in their own healthcare–rather, ensuring that they know how powerful their voices are. She is fierce in her advocacy. She is also kind and remarkably generous. Funny. Sarcastic. Tremendous fun to be around. Long story short, she has become one of my favorite people in the world, and I don’t say that lightly.

Four

A few years after our second, Alexandra, was born, Georg’ann and I were chatting. I can’t remember how it came up (probably something historical I posted on Facebook), but she mentioned that her dad was at Iwo Jima. I was dumbfounded.

“Your dad was in the Fifth Marine Division at Iwo Jima.”

“Yep. He lives in North Carolina. He gives talks about his experiences there with his friend Frank. They gave a talk here a few years ago.”

Ever the slow one, I finally put two and two together: My good friend Georg’ann’s dad was one of the Marines I saw talk at the library.

What are the chances?

While I don’t remember the details, George was coming to visit not long afterward. We made arrangements for Georg’ann, her husband David, and George to come to the farm for dinner. I made a venison pot roast. We had a nice dinner, and then George talked about Iwo. I am sure it was his “spiel,” but it was really important to me that the kids hear what he had to say. Alexandra was too young to get anything out of it (probably for the best), and Iain (to my great disappointment) does not remember the conversation. But I remember.

I don’t want to project, but my assumption is that George and Frank gave these presentations to people not simply to contribute to the historical knowledge of what they did. It was to deal with what they did. It was, to use a cliché, to exorcise the demons of Iwo Jima that they had lived with for decades. I hope they were successful.

Five

We had dinner at Georg’ann’s Friday night. George had recently returned home from a  trip to Guam and Iwo Jima. Georg’ann said he was in no shape to make the trip but wouldn’t be deterred. While in Guam, he fell in the bathroom and cracked his head on the tile. He had a rough flight home and was doing quite badly by the time he arrived stateside.

We received word this morning that George was taken to the ICU last night with pneumonia. He died early this morning. He was 93.

George was not my dad. If he was, I don’t know how I would have felt about him taking that trip to the Pacific in his condition. But as someone who admired him, I am grateful he was able to go. And why not? He wasn’t going to ever be in better shape to go. He lived on his own terms to the end, and good for him.

I understand that Frank died a few years ago. There are so few WWII veterans left. One of my great regrets (if one can regret something that one has no control over) is that my maternal grandfather died while Melissa was pregnant with Iain, so they never got to meet.

I don’t really have an overarching thought to wrap this up. George would object to being called a hero, but I don’t really care–he was. They all were. Going through what they went through makes them heroes. But you know what?

He raised a hero, too. As the director of BABS, Georg’ann empowered so many families to speak up for themselves and have their babies on their terms with the most knowledge she could impart to them. What she did as part of BABS was beyond measure to all of us who benefited from that organization. And she continues to be an advocate in our community for justice. She is a strong, fearless voice, and I can’t help but think that George lives on in her spirit.

I am proud to have met your dad, Georg’ann. He was a good man. And I am in your debt for helping me to expose my son to his experiences. But I am in his debt, not just for the ordeal he endured for us, but for giving us you. I love you, I hope your dad is at peace, and I hope your memories of him bring you peace and joy.

EDITS:

Here’s a link to an interview with George at the WWII Memorial:

Here is a brief record of the 13th Marines at Iwo Jima. George was in the 4th Battalion.

http://www.recordsofwar.com/iwo/5thmardiv/13thMar.htm

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