Values to impart –
Rectitude, kindness to dogs,
Being tough as balls.
A little late for Remembrance Day proper, I know, but I choose to recognize the day by writing about the career soldier nearest to my black and crusty heart: my own paternal grandfather. (It is late because it kept raining on my face.)
Ivan Murray Ehler was born in 1924 in Canso, Nova Scotia, one of nine children. As was sadly all too common in those days, only five of the nine made it past childhood and early adulthood. And the family did not have a mountain of cash on which to vent their sorrows – the patriarch, Charles, got hit with a back injury at his job at the local fish plant, effectively ending his working life. (Take a moment here to appreciate that you live in the days of worker’s comp.)
It should come as no surprise, then, that a few months after World War II officially began, young Ivan decided to enlist, as the army was offering three square meals a day and that was nothing to sneeze at. He slapped on three years to his age, which just goes to show how lax the recruiters were – he wasn’t even sixteen and if you ask me, he looked it.
In 1944, he joined up with the First Special Service Force as a corporal (cliff notes if you missed the previous post: joint US-Canadian unit, precursor to the Green Beret, tough as hell) as they were fighting at Anzio in Italy. He turned down a gig training troops in the Bahamas to do so – reportedly because he liked the FSSF beret. This was a distressing revelation, because it challenged my view of him being a sharp-minded fellow. Unfortunately, he just missed out on joining the rest of the Black Devils in the liberation of Rome, on account of being wounded in the shoulder. (Damn.) He healed up soon, though, so he could tromp around southern France (and help Tommy Prince carry shit) until the unit was eventually disbanded. (By then, he was a sergeant.) Apparently, he earned a bunch of medals, including a Silver Star, but turned them for Reasons. Here are the ones he received because he couldn’t really argue about deserving them:
(“You were physically present in Italy, fighting as a soldier. That’s an objective fact. You get the medal.”)
Whatever war stories he had, he wasn’t forthcoming with them. I hardly recall him even alluding to war at all, except to hiss at some bit of international news. “If those idiots saw their friends being killed, they wouldn’t be so eager.” This is not an exact quote, but it’s as best as I remember.
He met my future grandmother, Eileen, on a double date. Her being with the other fellow proved to be absolutely no impediment to them getting married three weeks later. In later years, when asked why they got hitched so quickly, Grandpa Ivan was said to respond, “Did you look at her picture?” Grandma Eileen, for her part, said that she knew they’d get married the first night they met. They had three children together, the youngest being my good ol’ pa.
(Damned good-looking couple, wouldn’t you agree?)
He left the army for good in 1966, because my Grandma Eileen didn’t want to move to Germany. So the family moved to Kamloops and my grandpa became… a lumberjack! Leaping from tree to tree in the mighty forests of British Columbia! Specifically, he was a bucker – responsible for cutting felled trees into certain lengths with a flipping huge saw – and he was much faster at it than most, to the point where they had to hire two dudes to replace him when he retired.
One evening, when my grandparents, were hovering around fifty years of age, they went for a drink in the Village Hotel in Kamloops. Two young punks were cussing the air blue, causing Grandpa Ivan to politely ask them to mind their language, as he was there with his wife. Now, there are several potential appropriate responses to that. “Fuck you, dad,” is not on that list. So he took the two on at the same time – the guy in front of him getting hit with his fist, and the guy at his back with his elbow.
My grandma began to gather up their things, expecting that they’d be kicked out in short order, as kicking the shit out of young punks is also not often considered an appropriate response. Well, the bar disagreed. They kicked the punks out and bought my grandparents a round.
While I was growing up, he and Grandma Eileen kept a pack of basset hounds, who were better treated than many children. The most fondly remembered, so far as I can judge, was Brutus, despite farts so foul that he’d clear the room. I have a soft spot for that doofy-looking breed to this day.
Some Grandpa Ivan aphorisms you can apply to daily life:
“Don’t panic in a submarine.”
“Everyone has their own sack of rocks to carry.”
“There’s a difference between scratching your ass and tearing it all to hell.”
Taken together, I feel that these are applicable to most of the human experience.
He died in 2010.
I love him and I miss him.