On this Memorial Day weekend, the graves will be visited, and decorated with flowers and flags. Men whose step has slowed are thinking of boys they knew when they were boys together.
-President Bush, dedicating the World War II Memorial
My grandpa Greenwood doesn’t have a grave. Instead his ashes are scattered over the mountainsides near Nutrioso, Arizona, where he grew up. Most Mormons prefer burial to cremation, but most Mormons prefer to attend church and prefer not to smoke, cuss in Spanish, English, and Navajo, drink, and raise h*ll.
My Grandpa ran away from his father, the overbearing bishop of the Nutrioso ward, when he was 16. He got work on the Santa Fe railroad and fell in with bad company. I say fell but ‘jumped’ would be more accurate. He worked as a railroad man for a while, and for the Civilial Conservation Corps, and other little jobs here and there. It was the Depression, times were hard, and you took work where you could get it. In the late 30s he joined the Army.
He got into one of the last cavalry divisions and was assigned to the horse-drawn artillery (the ‘Caissons’). He didn’t talk much about his wartime experience but he did teach us the Caissons Song. While with the Caissons, he took part in America’s last major cavalry exercise, a march from Fort Bliss, El Paso, to Louisiana. He also made a close friend.
When the war came, the Army offered to send him and his close friend to Officer Candidate School. They talked each other out of it when they heard that OCS was just another boot camp–I don’t think my grandpa ever met a form of authority he ever liked and his friend was the same, I guess–so they got converted to infantry like everyone else. They went to the Pacific, he and his friend, and stuck together through everything.
At Okinawa, they were climbing down the side of their troop transport together, down to the landing boats below, when a Japanese shell burst close by in the air. They were both knocked off. My grandpa fell into the landing boat, but his friend hit the water and sank straight to the bottom under 90 pounds of combat load.
My grandpa was bitter after that. The family story is that he was battle-field promoted to Sergeant five times at Okinawa and busted back down to private five times for gratuitously insulting and maybe even assaulting any officer that crossed his path. Who knows? Grandpa wouldn’t talk about the war much. He missed his friend too bad, even after all the years.
So I write this to honor my grandpa, but most of all to honor my grandpa’s friend. My grandpa would have wanted someone to remember him today.