Memorial Day 2011

To thank a veteran is to kneel humbly at the feet of giants then rise to hug a loved one and welcome him home. As for me, I will remember that I hold the luxury of not knowing what it means to be a veteran.

This Memorial Day, I would like to thank especially my brother-in-law, one grandfather, and my daddy. There are a host of aunts, uncles, and friends, and of course my father’s father Grandpa Tolle, who served our country proudly, but today I focus on these 3 men.

Caveat: I have more pictures but this blog post is being written during Memorial Day honors and festivities, so I employ rights of revision.

Specialist John J. Young:

As baby brother to my ex-husband, John filled our lives with joy. He lived with us as he struggled through high school, and I remember driving him on his first date. He was his mother’s best friend, and he was stranger to no man. He warmed my mother’s heart when he ate her food at Sunday Dinner, timidly asking for seconds, thirds, and a snack for the road.

John had a special relationship with Marshall, and they would talk endlessly on philosophical issues and the nature of being a man in contemporary times. John had a stubborn side, too; even now, I do not think he ever believed me when I tried to tell him that raisins are dehydrated grapes.

And John’s laugh was truly musical… easily imitated (it was something like the guffaw of Bert from Sesame Street), and hard to forget.

As part of the 10th Mountain Division out of New York, John became Specialist John Young, sniper and gunner headed to Iraq. During Christmas 2006, John visited us for 2 weeks, recounting some stories about being the gunner on the lead Humvee while sweeping roads for IEDs.  Some stories he told only Marshall, stories that depict the difference between the opportunity of a soldier and the unfortunate responsibility of a soldier. I will never want to know what he saw.

John was killed in Iraq on 21 September 2007. The nature of his death is unimportant. The quality of his life is. As America wrestles and postures and poppycocks around the pen concerned with the topic of nation building outside our borders, I remember only my sweet John’s words: “Wow, Colleen. It wasn’t until I got there (in Iraq) that I realized why we are there.”

Still, he certainly did not want to be there. He wanted money for college, he told us. But the mission and the active protection of his fellow soldiers (and the Iraqi women and children he knew he was protecting) gave John a strength I did not see in him state side.

A true patriot and merciful man, John Young was a gentle brother to us all. I miss him so much that I honestly do not like thinking about him.

Major General Joel B. Paris, III:

My sweet Grandaddy is a Flying Ace from WWII, a USAF test pilot, a former Adjutant General, and epitome of the “Greatest Generation,” dubbed by Tom Brokaw. I googled his name and came up with:

Name : Joel B. Paris, III
Country : United States
Airforce : USAAF
Rank : Major General
No Of Kills : 9, plus 7 probables
Awards : Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross with 3 clusters, Air Medal with 7 clusters, Purple Heart
Profile : Capt. Paris served with the 5th Air Force, 49th Fighter Group, 7th Fighter Squadron. He flew 167 combat missions in the P-40K, P-40N, and the P-38L. Highly decorated, Capt. Paris was awarded numerous medals including: the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with 3 clusters, the Air Medal with 7 clusters, the Purple Heart, the Asiatic-Pacific Medal with five battle stars, and the Philippine Liberation Medal with 2 battle stars. Capt. Paris finished the war with 9 confirmed victories and 7 probables. After the war he continued to serve and retired in 1970. He became the Adjutant General of Georgia in 1971, and retired in 1975 as a Major General.

His P-38 Lightning is immortalized here by Aviation Artist  Marc Stewart. Unbelievable to me that the man who led my mother’s family with such grace was once a dog-fighting, fighter ace.

Reflecting on his aviation career, I particularly am proud of his interview by the Georgia World War II Oral History Project begun here by GA Public Television. His hour-long interview is quite interesting, but I am certainly biased.

Apparently, it is the pictures that I cherish so much. I will be seeing my grandfather in a few weeks when I head to Atlanta for yet another summer trip home, this time attending my cousin’s Joel Paris wedding, too! I enjoy seeing his face, as it is the face of my uncle and 3 cousins. They all share features.

Georgia is his birthplace, and Belle was his mother. Being a Captain in the 7th Fighter Squadron, he stands in front of his P-38 with his usual quiet dignity. Of course I also like the P-40 he flew as a Lieutenant. Note that the name of this plane “Rusty” came as tribute to my grandmother because of her gorgeous, red hair.

My grandfather still embodies the strength and the fortitude of the brave soldier who has a cause, a mission, an opportunity, and a responsibility to those around him and those back home.

Colonel Frank Tolle:

My dad’s career in aviation reflected his era. Rather than the road sweeping of Operation Iraqi Freedom or the aerial battles in the South Pacific of WWII, my father was a Medevac helicopter pilot in Vietnam and in Korea. As with the other men in today’s tribute, my father served the men and women around him, keeping them safe, attempting so much to bring them home.

But it is not until I write today that I realize how little I am able to post visually his efforts as a veteran. I remember the story of the mystery bullet (holes in his helmet that line up to disaster with no explanation of how the bullet vanished between the entrance and the exit), and I remember the piercing edges of his souvenir shrapnel.

But which helicopter? There are so many. Where were the gun bays? I have questions. Knowing that my father has flown nearly every aircraft that the armed services and commercial industries have engineered, I really should have a stronger connection to my father’s impact on aviation and his fellow pilots. I vow that this summer I will catalog my questions and answers, for posterity as well as me.

When my father drove my grandfather, his father-in-law, to an interview about his experiences as an aviation icon, the interviewers were also very interested in interviewing him. I know my dad felt startled that anyone would ask his experiences as a military veteran, but I was sorely wrong as to why he was unsure. I thought for weeks that my dad drug his feet at submitting to the interview because his nature is so introspective. I simply thought he did not want to be on camera.

Nope. When I pressed him yet again to drive up for the interview about his Vietnam experiences, he told me, “Well, who would want to talk about any of it?”

I might as well have asked John to tell me how he felt after a kill shot or ask my grandfather how he felt when he saw a fellow American pilot spin uncontrollably toward the water. I was properly humbled that day, and I will remember that I hold the luxury of not knowing what it means to be a veteran. 

Happy Memorial Day, everybody.

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4 thoughts on “Memorial Day 2011

  1. Dear Gen Paris grandaughter…I am an aviation art collector and i had the honor to talk to Mr Paris over the phone,sometime 1st week of November…what a pleasure!,what an honor .We talked for about 45 minutes and he went on to tell me about one of his victories in his P38,he decribed so vivid that i could close my eyes and see him in battle.What a man…it takes nerves of steel and love of country.Thanks to him and many other like him we have this great country of ours…..one more thing……Keeping in mind everything he has gone thru,Mr Paris is one of the nicest person you could talk to!!!!.

    juan ibanez
    Ponte Vedra Beach Florida…USA.

    • Dear Mr. Ibanez,
      I am so grateful for your comments about my dear grandfather. I am also appreciative that you shared your experiences with me.
      I will be posting more information soon about General Paris, my grandfather, to help celebrate his 89th birthday. Watch for more to come!
      Thank you again for your kind words about my grandfather. He truly has helped to change lives.
      Colleen

  2. I ran across your page in a genealogy search and found it very informative. Thank you for posting the pictures and history as I have found out within the past few days that your grandfather is my 1st cousin once removed.

    • Thank you for letting me know! My grandfather passed away a few months ago, and we miss him and his warm, loving humor so much. His stories and his accomplishments have inspired me since I was a little girl.

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