Monday night I got an e-mail. A college friend had tracked me down to let me know that my adopted grandfather, Carl D. Beck, had passed away that morning. I wasn’t totally surprised, but the news still caught me off guard.
Carl adopted me, so to speak, when I was in college. We met in the college library. I thought he was a nice older gent and he was impressed that 1) I was interested in military history and 2) that I could disagree with another student about social policy without being disagreeable (the other gal and I reached a point of mutual agreement even though we had very different ideas about federal social welfare policies). Carl and his wife decided that I was “one of the good ones” and I ended up spending a fair amount of time at their house on school holidays, listening to stories, eating her cooking, and enjoying their company.
Carl made it a point to enjoy life. He was on his fourth career at least, having served as a paratrooper in WWII and after (until the West Texas hardpan and a parachute failure combined to ruin his back), then an ROTC instructor, then a traffic engineer for the city of Atlanta, and then working at the library and for security at the college. He jumped D-Day, Market Garden, Wesel, and was one of the Battered Bastards of Bastogne. He only spoke of Bastogne once, and I pushed myself back in the chair and tried not to breathe, because I think he’d forgotten that I was there, and I knew he’d never, ever talk about it again. What little I did hear left me with curled hair and a profound desire never, ever to find myself in anything even remotely similar. We went to WWII anniversary celebrations and paratrooper reunions, and even climbed Currahee Mountain at Toccoa, GA to get an oak sapling for his yard. Don’t do that on the opening day of deer season. Gets mildly exciting.
Carl started jumping again, but could not overcome his initial training. Even so, he still managed to jump with the D-day veterans in Normandy on June 5, 1994, and was on international TV. I shadowed him around Normandy, mouth shut and ears open, and learned more in a day than I probably could in a year of reading.
I visited him a few times after I escaped from college, and he returned the favor. He went back to Europe a few more times, but had to quit skydiving after breaking some ribs. Eighty-something year old ribs heal slowly.
So I lift my glass to “Grandpa” Carl. Geronimo!