To my Grandfather, Fallen War Hero.

This Memorial Day is a significant one for me. As we remember our fallen heroes, a name close to me has been added to the list. My Grandfather, William G. Comben, (papa Bill, as my daughters dubbed him), passed into eternity last Thursday at 9pm after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 90 years old.

Grandpa rarely spoke of the war. He spoke openly and fondly of the friends and hijinks and good times of that era, but stories of his exploits as a decorated Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, flying bombers in the European theatre were few. He did tell us of a crash landing behind enemy lines, but his recounting of casualties were (purposefully?) inconsistent, though he and several comrades made it back safely. He suffered long from a war-wound, presumably from that episode, which ended his tour of duty.

He lived a long, successful, difficulty-ridden, but joy-filled life. Losing his father at an early age, he worked hard to help support his family. Proposing to my Grandmother on the first date, he remained faithful to her through thick and thin, standing diligently by her side through a difficult end of life, and wearing their wedding band for years afterward.

Grandpa was an aggressive adopter of family members. He did not recognize degrees of kinship. If you were at all remotely related, potentially related, or remotely wishfully related, you were a cousin, aunt, or uncle. Family reunions and Christmas card readings could be confusing, sorting through family relationships, often finding that no blood relation existed, though it was impossible to tell for all the affection. I intend to keep this tradition alive and well.

He was a devout churchman and served his Anglican church faithfully as long as I can remember, often sending me articles from their newsletters. He was passionately political. A staunch “independent” (he voted Republican once) there were few things that lit him up like a political debate. (I am convinced that if you spoke the name of Charles Grassley over his grave, you will have an angry spirit on your hands to deal with. I intend to not find out.) His long, eventful life filled him with many opinions, and more wisdom.

He was an avid reader. A stamp collector. A letter writer. A servant of the community. A lover of his church. A defender of our country. He loved his family fiercely. He loved my wife and daughters nearly as much as I do.

Until his final days he seemed to me indestructible. A pillar of strength. An eternal force.

But all our bodies are mortal, stalwart as they may be.
Our souls are not, however, and bound for an eternity.

His favorite Hymn was The Old Rugged Cross. It’s final stanza says this:

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share.

And this gives me hope that I will see him again one day.

On the night of his passing, I wrote a rather amateurish piece of free-verse, reflecting on death. If you’ll indulge me:

Death, the final enemy
Death, the sure fate.
All men are appointed to die once.

Death, that wicked non-sequitur
Death, that alien ravager
of the Eternity within us

Death, shows us the shattered mirror
Death, shows us the broken ground
and reminds us that Paradise is lost

Death, blessed mercy to the fallen
Death, the conquered enemy
The days of his reign are numbered.

O Death, where is thy victory?
O Death, where is thy sting?

It is here.
It is now
for us.
But it shall not always be.





One response to “To my Grandfather, Fallen War Hero.”

  1. Steve Riker Avatar
    Steve Riker

    Such beautiful words. Your grandfather sounds like a man I would have loved. America is certainly richer in many ways because of men like this. Your loss is a loss for us all.

    Our thought and prayers will be with you and your family.

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