MARC CHASE: Celebrating perfectly imperfect heroes

2013-11-12T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Celebrating perfectly imperfect heroesMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
November 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

My Grandad could drink, smoke and swear like a sailor -- probably because from 1942-1945 he was one.

He spoke very little about his service as a lieutenant on a U.S. Navy troop transport ship during World War II. So this past Veterans Day, I focused on remembering the man I knew, trying to connect the dots between that person and his military service.

I'm not sure how successful I was, but the jaunt down memory lane was fantastic. So was the reminder how imperfect the heroes in our lives can be.

Like many of us, Grandad could make some pretty bad decisions in life. These decisions contributed to his divorce from my grandmother when I was 6 years old.

He also could be very abrupt and impatient.

I swear the line in the movie, "A Christmas Story" -- pertaining to Ralphie's father working in profanity the way other artists worked in oils and clays -- was written about Grandad.

But just as he could cuss a fly off a post at 50 yards, we all knew he would walk through fire for any one of us.

In the years before he moved away, I remember waking on Christmas mornings to a man sipping coffee at the kitchen table of the small apartment I shared with my Mom and older brother.

"Merry Christmas, Polo Fella," he would say, using the informal version of my Marco Polo nickname growing up.

The living room would be adorned with presents -- none wrapped and all assembled the night before while we slept. I grew up thinking Santa repetitively swore at the convoluted assembly directions for G.I. Joe airplanes and Star Wars spaceships.

Despite the sometimes biting profanity -- which could be both hair-raising and hilarious -- he also could be the kindest, most generous of men.

He was my Grandad, but also a father figure for the first decade of my life without the presence of an actual dad.

I remember long walks on the beach when I would pay him summer visits in South Carolina after he moved away.

He loved the ocean. You could tell it by the way his breathing changed -- deepened -- when we hit the sand and watched the surf.

Occasionally on these walks and hunts for fossilized shark teeth, he would remember something aloud from his Navy service.

Once or twice, he recalled his nights at sea -- in both the African and European theaters -- wondering if his ship would survive the German submarines lurking in the black abyss.

His eyes would drift from the shoreline out to the crashing waves of the Atlantic. He would fire up a cigarette, and then we would move on.

I miss those times, the waves and sands of boyhood and the quiet, deep moments during which so much was communicated with so little actually said.

Grandad died in 2006, going the way of so many from that great generation.

The differing elements that made him who he was help remind me today that heroes -- men and women of service -- exist in all forms, even imperfect ones.

Indeed, those imperfections make the hero qualities all the more astounding.

Happy Veterans Day, Grandad, and to all the perfectly imperfect heroes everywhere.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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