I have an elderly brother-in-law who is in the process of dying and I have been ask to write his obituary and have it ready when the time comes. Writing an obituary is an interesting process. It’s like painting a little portrait of an individual.
I have an interesting book called “The Last Word” which is full of obituaries and farewells from the New York Times. It’s a collection of unusual lives and makes most interesting reading. The obituaries always start with what made the person interesting or the defining event that made the persons life noteworthy. The book is full of stories about people who did interesting things like create the comic strip Superman or develop the famous roadside advertising campaign for Burma-Shave. A couple of my favorites are about the coach who created the huddle in football and the story of Johnny Sylvester who was Babe Ruth’s sick little pal for whom he knocked the home run.
I started the obituary about my brother-in-law with, “he was one of the heroes of what has been labeled the Greatest Generation. He was of the generation which came of age during the Great Depression, won World War II and helped build modern America.” I wrote briefly about his war experiences. When he came home after the war he talked very little about his experiences but in recent years he has talked more freely but age and dementia have clouded and confused his stories. To confirm some of the things he has talked about before, I made contact with a spokesman through the web site of the 69th Division. Sure enough, much of what he has tried to tell me through the years is correct and he was part of that unit. He went to Europe after the Normandy invasion and was part of the Fighting 69th who crossed the Rhine River and moved across Germany into Leipzig and met the Russian Army at the Elbe River which assured the defeat of Nazis Germany.
I guess it’s a blessing that time clouds our memory of unpleasant events. I wish I had done a better job of capturing the stories and life experiences of many of my now deceased relatives. One of my prized possessions is an interview with my father on tape. Once you get past the morbid part about death, obituaries are fun to write and read. It’s a capsule or miniature of a person’s life and even more fun than looking at old photos. As I summarized my brother-in-laws accomplishments, it is very evident that he is an American hero of the Greatest Generation.