My grandfather was truly a wonderful person.
He was smart. Part of “America’s Greatest Generation,” Papa skipped second grade, and graduated high school early. He wasn’t old enough to join the military, so he attended Harvard before enrolling at Annapolis Naval Academy. He served in WWII on a naval ship in the Pacific, and was struck by how deeply Asia was effected by the destruction of the war, and the respect that he was shown for being an American.
Throughout his life, Papa stood up for what he believed in. He worked at Haley House, helping people struggling with homelessness, and advocated for civil rights during the tumultuous 1960’s and 70’s. These efforts weren’t always easy, but he did what he thought was right.
Father of six, my grandfather tried a couple of careers before landing in insurance. He founded Dolan Insurance with my father in Westborough in 1983. When I was a toddler, the office was in the front room of my parents’ house, and I have vivid memories of smiling over the baby gate at my dad and grandfather while they worked.
On Friday afternoons, Papa would drive us to his house in Milton. Following the “scenic route,” we would sing “Blue Skies” at the top of our lungs. Saturday mornings were for pancakes “made with love” (read: lots of extra mixing from little hands) and strolls down the sidewalk.
Papa and I had our first real disagreement when I was fifteen. I came home from school, livid. He sat down with me, ready to help calm me down.
“I just can’t believe it. Why would we do that to them?!” I fumed.
“Do what to who?” He questioned.
I went on to explain that I learned that America had moved Japanese Americans living along the Pacific into internment camps during WWII.
“We had to do it. You don’t know what it is like to live in a country during wartime. It was a different time,” he responded.
This only further fueled my fire. Our heated discussion continued for hours before we decided to close the subject for the night, but the conflict continued.
Then, something happened. My grandfather, who moved to the west coast, began to see things differently. After 9/11, his perspective on America changed, too.
Mine changed just as much. I studied sociology and history for a semester in Denmark, learning about WWII from an entirely different perspective. I spent a summer in Hawaii, and I met Japanese Americans who were interned or served in WWII.
One night, when we were both enjoying some lunch at a neighborhood cafe, Papa again brought up the discussion we had become entrenched in over a decade before
“You were right, to say what you did, Katie. With more distance, I can see why you felt the way you did. I’m not saying America was wrong to do it, but I understand now why you think that it wasn’t right.”
I smiled, slowly.
“You were right, too. There was so much nationalism and fear in our country. People were afraid to speak up, and didn’t know that they could.”
Our conversation continued, but even in the moment, I appreciated the effort that it must have taken for him to admit that he was wrong.
Today is Memorial Day, a day to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our country. I find myself thinking about a guy who took tremendous pride in America, and truly believed that his service was one of the greatest accomplishments of his life.
I’m so grateful that I got to spend so much time with such a wonderful serviceman. Love you, Papa!