My grandfather was born in 1921, which makes him very very old...89 to be exact. But his age doesn't stop us, especially now that I'm older- he was "grandpa" age when my mom gave birth and to me, he's been the same age since I was born - he's "grandpa" age.
Well, Grandpa Blair has seen a lot. He's been a mechanic, a soldier, a farmer, an electrician (watch out for those sparks), and a pastor. He's lived through the Great Depression, WWII - Korea - Vietnam - 9/11 - Afghanistan - Iraq (to name a few), the Civil Rights Movement, the Kennedy assignation, the Cold War, color TV, automatic transmissions, microwaves, and cellphones; he's traversed the Continent, sailed the Mediterranean, taken a day trip to the Vatican and had an audience with Pope Pius XII, he's seen Jerusalem, climbed Mexican pyramids and dusted the sand off his glasses along the banks of the Nile. I think the world of him - and I want to know his story.
So, a few Thanksgivings ago at my Uncle Bruce's house in Welch we had pushed back our chairs after the last crumb of stuffing had disappeared from our plates, and I asked my grandpa to tell me about the war. "Tell me anything, grandpa, I want to know." Well! My grandpa is the kind of grandpa that's full of corny puns and old anecdotes, so I wasn't surprised when I saw a sheepish grin break across his face. Then he entered into a delightful monologue of his tour of Sicily and Italy, embellishing each company stop with a story about the locals or the state of the villages there.
He wasn't in direct combat, but followed the action as it moved forward, fixing up the trucks and vans returning from the front lines. He saw a lot, he said. So I followed him from the island of Sicilia to the village of Messina where the mob dominated the lives of the citizens, then to the Southeastern coast of Italy, and across the boot, North to the city of Salerno and Campania - him spittin' out Italian names like he'd never spent a day in Minnes"oh"ta. Finally, he made it to the base camp outside the slopes of Vesuvius and he whips out an old black and white photo album to illustrate this story he's about to tell me, and he flips to the picture
above. Then he grabs a copy of National Geographic from September 2007, turns to an article documenting the history of Mount Vesuvius and I see an identical photograph with the following caption, "During World War II, Vesuvius’s last eruption, in 1944, shot a roiling cloud of ash skyward as U.S. bombers headed toward German troops. Even this minor eruption overran several villages, killed around 45 people, and damaged 88 Allied aircraft based nearby."
I was astonished. "Grandpa, is this true?" I asked. "Did Vesuvius really erupt while you were there? Is that your picture!?"
"Yeah," he says, "My buddy took it from the air and gave it to me - same exact one."
"Grandpa, that is so awesome! You have a picture in National Geographic, that's my dream! That must have been so scary, flying up there when the volcano went off, did anyone get hurt?"
Then the grin returns to his face and I can tell he has a secret. He leans over and tells me, "Those guys aren't such heroes" he chuckles, "we weren't flying a mission to the Germans, we snuck up there with the planes to get good shots of the explosion, but I suppose that sounds better then breaking regulation to get a few photographs".
I love my grandpa.