On July 1st, my grandfather and my favorite person on the planet, passed away. He was pretty much the coolest guy ever, and I'd like to share some of his story with you.
Phil was born on October 10, 1925 and grew up in Al Capone's Chicago. He told stories of watching the changing of the times, when horses were replaced by "automobiles" and the empty, dusty bar on the corner opened back up after prohibition was repealed.
He liked to tell me how he was a real "street-wise" kid and one of his biggest pieces of advice for me was, "Never go to the ground." What? I don't even know what that means, Grandpa. "In a fight. Once you're on the ground, you're screwed." Oh, ok, thaaanks for the tip.
He was an orphan by the age of 13 and his Aunts brought him and his two older sisters to live with them in St. Paul, MN. He claimed that this was a move that saved his life, and if he had stayed in Chicago, he was sure he would have died or gone to prison within the next few years. "It's just how it was."
When he was 17, his Aunt brought him to a Navy recruiting center to enlist in WWII. He served three years of active front-line combat in the South Pacific and never really talked about it again, until just last year*.
After the war had ended, he had no clue what to do, so he went to his buddy's house back in St. Paul. That was his big plan - hang out at his buddy's house.
The girl next door to his friend had a party one night and invited them over. My grandpa thinks he winked at her at some point, and that was it. That's how he met my grandmother, a "sweet 16" girl next door. Her parents were not thrilled.
He courted her for six years. He took her to her junior and senior prom, and he waited patiently for her to finish high school, then her teaching college, and then one full year of teaching (all stipulations put on by her mother - again, not thrilled that a Navy man was courting her daughter). They were wed in 1952 and moved to Orange County in Southern California. My dad, their eldest son (the fat baby in the water), was born in 1953 and their family blossomed from there. They traveled often, spent a ton of time at Disneyland, and over time, they watched the orange groves disappear.
The weekend before he passed away was what would have been my grandparents' 63rd wedding anniversary, so I went up for a weekend visit. We held hands, hung around the citrus trees, watching Game of Thrones (his favorite show), and reminisced about the good ol' days with him and his wife. We called my two sisters and my dad several times to chat and all-in-all, had a wonderful weekend. It was his last weekend, and just happened to be the weekend I was there for a visit, and we had a total blast. I will cherish that weekend for the rest of my life.
I am so grateful for the time we shared and for his influence in my life. Thank you for letting me share his story with you.
Rest in Peace, Grandpa.
*He started opening up about his time in the war after a terrible bout with pneumonia in January 2014. We recorded some of his stories for the "Voices of WWII Project" with the Smithsonian. His stories are truly a piece of American history and I'm so proud to have had someone as amazingly brave as him in my life. Phil received several medals during his service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was buried with full military honors on July 11, 2015.