My grandfather was a Marine in World War II. He enlisted upon graduating from high school in 1941. The year 1942 found him in the South Pacific fighting at Guadalcanal, and later in China. While Grandpa Joe didn’t speak often of his time overseas, I grew up with tremendous respect for what his generation gave to our country and the world—and I carry his legacy with me.
A couple of times when we were little, Grandpa Joe brought out a box of photographs from deep in his bedroom closet. I remember thinking how odd these photos seemed: Marines posed with island natives, seemingly relaxing on the beaches among the palm trees. I didn’t understand until I was much older what had actually occurred on those beaches, and how important this battle was to the eventual outcome of the war. I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been for a 19-year-old boy from a small town in Michigan.
After returning to the States, Grandpa Joe went to work for the railroad, just like his father and his father before him. Later, in 1973, he was stricken with a debilitating disease similar to arthritis. The doctors always wondered if it had something to do with his military service. But he never complained, despite having to retire the following year at the age of 50. I was eight at the time and lived just three small town blocks away. With both of my parents at work and with Grandpa Joe home every day, he became my full-time baby-sitter and best pal. I remember that he loved poetry. Me at eight years old? Not so much. So, he would pay me $5 to memorize and recite poems. I liked poetry better after that.
In high school, I was on the golf team and worked at the local pharmacy delivering prescriptions. On days when I had a match, Grandpa Joe would do the work for me, driving around our small town delivering medicine to people who were often in better shape than he was. That was Grandpa Joe.
Grandpa Joe was also stubborn. Like a mule. Like many of his generation, I think. He never let his illness get the better of him and he was loathe to accept help. To this day, I can picture him mowing his rather large lawn, using a walking mower, or a limping mower I should say. His hips were in such bad shape. He would dangle his two canes from the mower’s handle and off he’d go.
When I learned that God’s Love We Deliver was feeding a client named Rocco, also a World War II hero, it brought joy to my heart. Rocco was on our program for several years. This man who had fought throughout Europe, marching hundreds of miles through rugged terrain, could barely manage walking across his small apartment due to the severe diabetes and peripheral artery disease he had developed. We fed him the right meals he needed for his illness and medications.
Rocco celebrated his 92nd birthday with God’s Love We Deliver. One year, he was very sick and forgot it was his birthday, but when he received his cake from us, he called to say thank you, and to share how much this simple gesture meant to him. It was an honor to help someone who’d given so much to all of us. I’m grateful to God’s Love We Deliver for bringing us together.
My grandfather died in 2009. He taught me so much about how to live a good life. I’m forever grateful to him. And Rocco passed in 2018. With the holidays around the corner, I’ll be thinking a lot about both Grandpa Joe and Rocco this month. They are real-life heroes and people I am lucky to have known—two fine members of our greatest generation.
David Ludwigson is Vice President and Chief Development Officer at God’s Love We Deliver.