My grandfather carried a machine gun through the jungles in Korea and Vietnam. His call sign was “Killer66Yankee.” He wasn’t drafted.
He enlisted in the United States Army when he was just 17. You weren’t supposed to be able to do that, but he lied about his age. He wanted in.
My grandpa had grown up during the Great Depression in Hutchinson, Kansas. When he was a boy he would go around from house to house collecting eggs the hens were laying in people’s back yards, because in those days you could sell your eggs to the neighborhood grocery store.
He was an ornery rascal. There is an underground waterway in Hutchinson, and there’s a story about my grandpa, as a young boy, getting in some hot water for cruising that waterway on an innertube. When he was a teenager, he got his ear pierced. You can imagine how that went over at that time, in the middle of Kansas. He was a boxer, too, and that made sense. Boxing has always been a sport for hardscrabble kids like Arthur Lyman.
That orneriness never left him. Sometimes, at Thanksgiving or Christmas, you’d see him messing around with one of my nieces or nephews or little cousins, and you’d wonder which one the kid was.
And yet this was a man and he did man’s work. He could fix anything except a car; he hated working on cars. But he’d lick anything else. When I was 13, he and I dug a trench along the side of his house deep enough to patch a crack in the basement wall. He laid the concrete that made my grandparents’ back porch. He built a bathroom, from scratch, in the basement. He repaired other people’s lawnmowers. On the Fourth of July, he made ice cream.
Not too far from my home in Houston, he helped build The Woodlands Mall, back when The Woodlands was still kind of a small thing. I drive past The Woodlands every time I go home.
When, in his final days, some work needed to be done on the house and he was too weak to do it himself, he insisted he be wheeled out there to watch the repairmen work. He wanted to make sure it got done right.
He supposedly retired sometime in the 90s, but he never really stopped working. He was that kind of guy.
But he was also this kind of guy: My mom says that never, in her whole life, did she see him not clean his plate of whatever her mom served him, whether it was any good or not. Never heard him complain. My mom must have told me that 20 years ago, which would have been about 20 years after she moved out. It’s such a small thing, but look at the impression it’s made.
Grandpa had a Jeep I used to ride in. When he took trips he always had to have Jelly Beans. That Jeep smelled like cigarettes — Winstons, the hard stuff. He quit years ago, but they still got him. He’d been getting treatment for lung cancer. Last night it took him.
A couple of years ago on Veteran’s Day my sister and I posted a couple things on Facebook about our grandfather and our appreciation for his service. He wasn’t on Facebook, of course, but my other sister e-mailed him what we’d written.
He wrote back: “I served my country for you.”