Yet more death

9 Jan

Today’s blog was supposed to introduce you to My Cadaver. I had such great plans for her (or him) on the blog! I was really looking forward to contrasting her/his anatomical features and resultant imagined biography with what I could remember about my first cadaver, “Madge” — the 66 year-old woman who died from lung cancer and served as my academic specimen back in 1988 when Mrs. Hodges sent me to Cadaver Camp at UCI as a “reward” for me earning the highest grade in AP Biology…

Alas, this plan shall not come to pass for three (3) reasons:

  1. Contrary to expectations, I did not get to meet my New Madge during last night’s Anatomy Lab. Rather than meeting/reviewing our specimens, we simply reviewed basic lab rules like: Don’t hit each other with limbs; Don’t use skulls as puppets; Use the RED bins for anything that has touched tissue; Don’t take anything home; and Don’t take pictures;
  2. Even if I’d actually managed to meet my New Madge, a bunch of uptight lawyers for UCLA (possibly some of my former Manatt colleagues?) recently came up with draconian rules forbidding any/all social media discussion of Donated Bodies on penalty of Class Failure and Expulsion [of course, in all fairness, the lawyers were absolutely correct/wise in drafting their rules given the history of “challenges” associated with Donated Bodies at UCLA and UCI; I am 100% on-board with their strictures in principal, even if –or perhaps especially because– it puts a damper on my “fun”…];
    and, lastly, and perhaps most importantly…
  3. A different death-related topic arose & mandates immediate sharing here, instead.

Uncle Willie has passed on.

Long-time, extra-loyal JustAdventure followers may remember Uncle Willie from a truncated tale I told in connection with my Ride2Receovery trip to Belgium/Luxembourg in 2012. Judging by my BlogStats data, however, it appears that most of you missed that posting. You’re welcome/encouraged to click that link, of course, but now that Willie has passed on, I feel that I owe it to him to provide a fuller rendering of his awesomeness.

[BEFORE READING ONWARD: Please click THIS LINK to get a sense for Willie’s voice. Truth be told, I have no idea what that “interview outtake” is about, but it helps set the stage and it’s important for you to know Willie’s voice. Of course, you need to imagine another ~7 years being added to his voice — years that both mellowed its tone and roughened its edges. Willie’s rough gravel of ~2006 became a slurry by 2012, and softer/rougher still in 2013.]

OK, then, carry on and read the following in Willie’s voice — it’s what he told me while we were near an Easy Company memorial in Bastogne:

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In 1944, I was 22 years old. I was in a mobile radar unit of the 563rd Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion. We landed in France on D-Day+20. We were attached to the 4th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army. Our charge was to somehow swivel out of an ongoing fight in France and get our butts to Belgium. In the Army there are good units and there are bad units. The 4th Armored Division, 3rd Army, was probably the best unit of all time. The Germans said it, and they should know.

We broke through the German siege of Bastogne on December 26, 1944. My job was to guard the radar truck used to detect German air attacks. We moved very fast. We covered more than 50 miles a day. Along the way I went from private to sergeant and my pay went from $28 a month to $78 a month. It was like winning the lottery. But mainly I was just trying to stay alive.

It was cold. It was miserable. I don’t like to talk about it, but I love having you listen to me. I love that you care. It’s great that you’re here. It’s great that you’re riding your bikes here. I wish I could still ride a bike…

You know, I could barely walk after a V-2 missile exploded near me on January 15, 1945. It knocked me out. They waved a metal detector over me and couldn’t find any shrapnel, so they sent me back into battle. I slept every night on the frozen ground with only a thin bedroll and no overcoat.

It was brutal.

Later, during a visit to the Patton Museum in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg, Willie stood in front of a 15-foot-high statue of Gen. Patton and had us all completely mesmerized. His voice was, at times, completely incomprehensible, but it hardly mattered. In fact, the next day –the day when Willie literally could not speak AT ALL after he laid a wreath on Patton’s grave at the American military cemetery outside Luxembourg City– that day of silence spoke louder to me than any words ever could.

As indicated in my aforementioned “truncated tale,” the message on the memorial wreath was: Accept the challenges so that you can experience the exhilaration of victory.

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These were Patton’s words.

This was Uncle Willie’s entire life.

This was (and is) what I aspire to center my life around.

<sigh>

And as if that wasn’t enough, there is my #1, all-time, super-extra-awesome Uncle Willie story…

No, it wasn’t drinking beers with Willie in the Tour de France VIP section in Tournai (although that was pretty dang epic!)

No, it was what happened during our Italy/France trip in 2013… somehow, somewhere, for reasons entirely unknown, unexplained, and inexplicable, ALL of Willie’s luggage got lost. The R2R staff worked tirelessly and diligently and creatively and doggedly to track it down and get it to him, but a series of airline SNAFUs combined with our constant peripatetic meandering somehow made it impossible for Willie to be reunited with his belongings.

He’s 91 years old and a friggin’ war hero. The man deserves to be treated like a 100% VIP — coddled and swaddled and allowed to feel only joy and happiness.

Willie, however, was having none of that.

He stuck with his one pair of pants and his one pair of shoes. He assented to accepting various R2R-logo-emblazoned shirts and after a couple days he allowed us to buy him some socks and underwear. But the thing was, even with all this, he still only felt (or at least exuded) nothing but joy and happiness.

Uncle Willie was a class act all the way.

He perfectly personified the moniker applied to men of his era: He was emblematic of The Greatest Generation.

Rest in Peace, Uncle Willie.

I never told you this, but I know you knew it: I love you.

Parting Thought: It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived. ~Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

One Response to “Yet more death”

  1. Carrie Kiley January 9, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    Sorry for your loss Z – sounds like an amazing man. Cherish those memories!!

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