Earlier this year I had a goal to write more. It is September now, the chill of fall has taken the place of summer and only 9 months after I made the commitment to myself I am following through. To ensure I meet at least part of the goal I signed up for a Creative Non-Fiction writing class. Our first assignment is a character sketch. For this assignment, I choose one of my favorite Characters. Athol Clair Libby was my Grandfather and this story is a depiction of how I saw his Character develop from who he was to who I knew. For those who knew and loved him, I can only hope I did him justice.
It was a crisp morning. The soles of my bare feet were apparent from the chill of the concrete floor of the warehouse where we were gathered in. A hodge-podge assemblage of men standing in skivvies awaiting our issue of whitey whites and drab green uniforms Apparently the ensemble we would be graced with for the next few years. The group of us, all from a different walk of life. I was just 19 at the time and up until a few days ago I was standing in a much different line at at Mt. Angel College in Oregon, registering for my sophomore year. It wasn’t until the Japanese decided to attack a small Island in the south pacific that my plans and desires had changed. It was, after all, the right thing to do. Not all thought that way and it was very apparent based on the side conversations. Our mission here, which to us was a major undertaking but for the staff on hand was just another day in the office, was to get issued our ditty bag and to become American fighting men. This was our first step in a series of training events that would transform us from a hodge-podge assemblage of know it all teenagers to a cohesive group of soldiers that were ready to engage for our country and our soon to be altered world view.
Again, approximately 12 weeks later, I stood in a line with the same confused and bewildered bunch of men but instead of a staggered hodge-podge circus lost in our own thoughts, and confused about our surroundings we were tight, sharp and crisp in our appearance. Our ranks were tall, straight and lean. Weaving down the 36 inch ranks was a weathered man who had a face and a stance of wisdom. His uniform was crisp and bright, his breast was decorated with row after row of colorful ribbons and a single star glinted in the sun on his lapels. As he approached each soldier they saluted proudly with respect and stature. The General’s porter handed each one of us a single starched white envelope. Stamped on the front of the envelope in the upper right corner in the ever so familiar green were the words, Department of the Navy and in the center, were the words Athol Clair Libby.
The contents of the letter would set the stage for a journey that would transform my world view, change my attitude, alter my ego and show me things that are beyond description. After my “C” school training I was to be known Pharmacists Mate (a medic) to be stationed with the 3rd Marines Division Reinforced and we were shipping out for the South Pacific and it wasn’t the one the Elvis visited. During this minuscule time, I would get the opportunity to run out of a landing ship on to the beaches of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Atolls, Kwajalein and Eniwetok (Marchal Islands) and because we were so good at it for my last soiree the let us lead the charge at Guam. The promises were not wrong, I did get to see the world, just not the parts that were in the travel brochures. As a bonus, I did get to come home with a chest full of colorful ribbons, of which no one outside of our travels would understand.
Of course, that is not the Athol (Grandfather) that I grew up to know but again that was WWII, ugly and brutal as it was, it did shape the man that I knew. This short time period June 6, 1942 to Dec 23, 1945 sets the stage for who he was and became as a Husband, Father, Grandfather and Friend. He was in fact a part of the definition of the generation known as “The Greatest”. The man I knew was in a single word Stoic. Dressed in cargo pants a t-shirt and a open flannel who often walked with a wooden cane carved by his own hand. He was not a complicated man, humble in his approach. He honored his family and showed courage in his decisions. He lived a life committed to what he believed. In and in the end, he was surrounded by that same family who loved him. Even in his last days of 93 he had the wits about him study Calculus and quote poetry from “The Raven” and select writings from Rudyard Kipling.