To me, he was just grandpa. I didn't understand the respect and awe he commanded until I was flying home in dress uniform in the spring of 2001. A navy master chief looked at me like he had seen a ghost. He walked straight up to me and I snapped to parade rest, sure I had done something egregious. He asked me if I was related to Commodore Ray Harris. I told him that he was my grandfather. The master chief snapped to attention and saluted me, a Private First Class. He then shook my hand and asked if I had time to hear a story. I said I had time. We sat down and he related to me a story of a young seaman stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who had decided it would be a good idea to sneak off base for a night out on Havana. He was apprehended on his attempt to sneak back on base and brought before the Commodore of Fleet Training, Capt. Raymond M. Harris. I got goosebumps. The master chief went on to say that the 'talk' that my grandfather had with him was the defining moment in the master chief's Navy career. He asked me to pay my respects to my family and departed for his flight while I sat there stunned.
My grandfather not only left an indelible mark on US Navy history, but he personally touched the lives of so many. I never got to greet him in uniform. He passed away before I had the opportunity. I think about the look in his eyes when he would tell me a story about his time in the war. There was an immense amount of pain there and something else I wouldn't recognize until I saw it later reflected back at me in the mirror: An intimate knowledge of death that no human being should ever have to know.
It's days like today that I miss him the most. I wish I could have talked to him about what I was going through after I got home. It hurts so much knowing that I will never get to hear his wisdom. He, like so many others of his generation, carried the invisible wounds of war. His experiences were fresh in his mind until the day he passed on, my father's hand in his. I never got to thank him for his service to our great nation. I always took that service for granted, coming from a military family. It my greatest regret, not being able to look upon his face with the knowledge of what he had dealt with his whole life - the sacrifices he made to ensure the safety and security of this amazing country - and say thank you. Not being able to tell him I love him and I understand. I wish for nothing more than to see him one last time so that I could hug him and find solace in his embrace.
Rest in Peace, Grandpa. No man I have ever known deserves it more.
Love and Respect Always,