Monday, May 27, 2024

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

     Sometimes I'd wonder, and still do to this day, if, when we lived in the old West Germany between 1962-1965, we'd brushed past or caught sight without knowing it the German soldier who'd killed in 1944 my great uncle Leon Crawford in WWII. The chances would've been infinitesimally small. But, stranger things have happened.
     As I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the only way I even knew Great Uncle Leon, my paternal grandfather's twin brother, even existed was through an old sepia photo placed and forgotten in the den at grandpa's house in Central Islip. In the glassed-in frame was a young, handsome man in his 20s, one who, unsurprisingly, looked like a younger version of my grandfather. Taped to the sepia photograph is a lock of jet black hair and a short poem on yellowed, brittle paper, written by his mother, my great grandmother Anastasia, after whom one of my aunts was named, clipped from the newspaper in which it was published.
     Every time we went to Central Islip, I'd go in the den and I'd pick up that dusty, neglected picture frame, look into the face of the man I'd never know then gently place it back where I'd found it and resume pursuing the life he helped ensure I could live. No one ever spoke of him, except once when my grandfather mentioned him or on the rare occasion my dad would mention him. I'm sure that old forgotten picture is still in the den at the old house in Central Islip, sitting in dusty, dignified disuse.
     All I know was he died just before the war in Europe ended. All he had to do was survive another six months. By then, Hitler would've been dead, Nazi Germany smashed and the Allied forces would've begun rebuilding Western Europe. He would've come home and started a family. But it was not to be. It's even possible that he was killed by a German soldier who didn't know what he was firing at, perhaps a German private who was just as young and scared as he, someone who also desperately wished to survive the war.
     My father told me he was a cook but in a combat theater, everyone is a soldier. Now, there's probably no one still alive who remembers my great uncle Leon. After all, he was born 107 years ago. Once, just before a Memorial Day years ago, after an exhaustive internet search, I found Great Uncle Leon's picture, a tiny little thing smaller than a thumbnail but, the internet being the mysteriously capricious place it is, even that little morsel got sucked into the memory hole.
     And it always struck me as odd that hardly anyone ever spoke of Leon even when I was a kid and there were still plenty of people who remembered him, starting with his identical twin. The same thing happened with my great grandmother Anastasia, whose name I didn't even know until a genealogist dug that up a few months ago as well as a great many other things about my family going back to the Revolutionary War (including a distant relative named Josiah, who was a Lt. Colonel and lived, fought and died in Pennsylvania).
     Despite that failing of my family to almost immediately forget or neglect those who had even recently passed, it doesn't mean that failing has to continue succeeding. That's what the living are for. I can't provide you with a photograph, sadly, but I can damned sure tell you that Great Uncle Leon existed. He was an Army private, a cook, from Kings County, Brooklyn, and he died on the Fifth of November, the day the Gunpowder Plot was discovered beneath Parliament in 1605.
     I generally don't make Memorial Day posts except to bash one president or another and I almost never mention my family, This is, after all, a political blog. But this year for some reason, I redoubled my efforts to find Great Uncle Leon in the shadows of the internet. Because I wanted you all to know he existed and that he made the supreme sacrifice so we baby boomers and the rest of us could continue living our lives in freedom.


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