My father died last week. He was 94. His wake and funeral were the most beautiful I've ever been part of. All the testimonials, all the affection, all the gratefulness for his many, many years of service. I presented a short eulogy at the end of his funeral Mass. I share with you an excert: Dad liked words: he liked words so much he created his own and appropriated standard words and put them to new use. He had names for us, starting with his mother whom he called Minnie, his baby sister, Alice who was Nellie Hamburger or Adrian Zilch. Our brother Gene became Jasper, MaryEllen was McGinkly Old Girl and Giggles McGuirk, Peter was Pierpont, Alicia was Lovely Leesh, the old Peach, Gerry was Reginald Von Bimburg the Third, shortened to Reggie, I was Kazook, or more fully Juli Kazool the silliest girl in Kalamazoo, Mom was Millicent, My dear and Pasta Fagioli.
When he was annoyed, Oof e gad popped out. Oof e gad was heard quite a bit in our home. When he thought his children were not acting up to their potential as his offspring we might hear “Balloon head” or "Balliftina" directed our way.
For all his affectionate naming he didn't much care for malarkey or jibberjab and he didn't have patience for a rigamarole when things became more complicated than they needed to be.
He had many qualities: he was a scholar, a thinker, a speaker, a writer, a pray-er, a husband, a father, a brother, and perhaps the quality that showed itself in brilliant colors these past six and a half years, he was a fighter.
When he landed in Marseille in December 1944 he entered what was the coldest winter on record in Europe. The temperature ranged from about zero to ten below.
The army trained him as a Mechanical Engineer and because of his sharp strategic abilities he was sent over as a scout. As he put it, he was good at the Cowboy and Indian games. This strategic ability of his coupled with his natural leadership saved the lives of countless of his fellow soldiers during The Battle of the Bulge. Because of his heroic leadership he was given a Battlefied Commission to First Lieutenant.
On March 22, 1945 German bullets caught up with him at the Siegfried Line in his head, shoulder and back. The men in his squad told him they saw who shot him and they were going to get him. He immediately said, No, Don't Do It. He didn't know the young German kid, of course, but he recognized in him a similar fate. He didn't want to be in this bloody war any more than Dad did. He believed that boy’s mother was home praying for him just as much as his own mother was keeping her rosary warm with persistent Hail Mary’s for his safety.
You see, above and beyond all the qualities of our father, beyond his sharp wit and penetrating intelligence, beyond his movie star looks as a young man, beyond his strategic mind and leadership, Dad was a Catholic, the kind of Catholic it might be difficult to find anymore.
That order forbidding his squad to kill the German soldier who shot him uttered from a deep and true part of his soul. He took seriously the Gospel which he breathed in and out in all his years of formation at St. Elizabeth’s and St John’s and his natural bent toward holiness. Yes, holiness.
In these last difficult years he was the soul of grace, enduring, uncomplaining, through a stroke, countless infections, bouts of pneumonia, and for the last two years, a respirator, robbing him of his ability to talk.
He was a man of deep faith, his Catholicism informed every aspect of his life. I believe he was able to not only endure his suffering because of this grace, but he transcended the pain and, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, transformed his pain into redemptive suffering, a lesson learned from the crucifix.
Dad lived 94 years, something incredible in itself. 68 years ago he was all but killed on the battlefield. The Army told him he would never work, that he was 80% disabled. He said goodbye to the Army, turning down a promotion to Captian, immediately went to Law School, married my mother 64 years ago, had six children, became a NYState Supreme Court judge and retired at age 72. See what 80% disabled meant to him!
It will take a long time for me to unpack the lessons he provided, maybe the rest of my life.
Dad, I send to you a “Whack on hine, Kiss on Snout.” We love you, you old Curmudgeon.