Remembering My Grandfather

Kelly and I have spent (and will spend) a lot of time writing about topics that are pretty difficult to talk about. My assumption is that this is universal—that everyone has junk going on within themselves and within the people around them that are really really hard to talk about. But, a great experiment is to discover how you feel and how you’re changed when you choose to open up about those things, or invite others to do so.

In a couple of weeks, it will be the first anniversary of the passing of both of my grandparents on my dad’s side of the family. I have a good feeling I’ll be writing more about them in the future, but I wanted to write a bit of a remembrance of my grandfather, Ben Collins, specifically.

Ben was the kind of guy who didn’t open up too much, much less about the big, emotionally jarring experiences in his life. I knew he served in the Pacific during World War II, but didn’t learn until a few years ago he was part of the 3rd Battalion 7th Marines Division, which invaded the islands of Peleliu and Okinawa. If you don’t know much about Peleliu or perhaps this is your first time hearing of the battle, it was forecasted to last no more than four days, but dragged on from September 15 to November 27, 1944. As you can imagine, the operation was an absolute cluster, and ended up being one of the most bloody operations in the entire Pacific. Wikipedia goes so far as to say, “The 1st Marine Division was severely mauled,” losing approximately 33% of its entire force and unable to return to action until the invasion of Okinawa, on April 1 of the following year, four months later.

Ships off Ulithi staging for Okinawa.

My grandfather was a radio man, responsible for carrying not only his extensive gear pack (everything required to keep himself alive during the battle) but also a 30+ pound radio. This likely made him a significantly attractive target for the enemy fighters, who would have recognized the strategic benefit of severing lines of communication.

But he lived, and not only that, but he thrived. I’d like to think my life is a testament to his unwavering success, determination, and humility in the face of hardship, and I also think I have quite a bit more to learn from him than I realize. Believe it or not, he lived to be 92 years old, an absolutely ridiculous age in hindsight, and had it not been for the car accident he and my grandmother were in last year, I truly believe he could have lived to be 115, and I guarantee no one who knew him would bet against that.

I recorded this short conversation with my grandfather on Christmas Eve, 2013. If you can ignore the family follies, there are some spectacular nuggets in there about his story.

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