My uncle Bill died last week, on a Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. "Paw Paw" as my nieces and nephews called him, finally gave in after struggling through two strokes, and ultimately a hurricane that took away what little vitality he had left. He was my last living male relative in my father's generation, making the loss of his passing all the more sad.
His life was a simple one, though powerful in a way so few are today. He lived through and survived the depression, only to be sent off to fight in the Great War, World War II. There, in the Navy he experienced some of the greatest battles of our time. Serving aboard the USS Blessman, he lived through and witnessed the invasion of Normandy and Iwo Jima, at the latter surviving the explosion of a 500lb bomb that killed 40 of his shipmates. I don't think I began to appreciate his service until I saw the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.
Returning home, he went to work for New Orleans Public Service, working in electrical utilities, a job he would retire from. He bought the house he would live in most of his adult life (until Katrina took it), and was faithfully married to two women, the first my aunt Theresa, whom he lost to cancer, and the second my aunt Barbara, who died a few years before him. He had five children, all of whom are successful adults in their own right today.
His death, though not widely felt, marks the loss of one more connection of this generation to the past. As with most men of his generation, he didn't talk much of the things he had experienced; though looking back, he lived through and personally experienced some of the most incredible moments in recent history.
That perhaps is what most separates our generation from his; he strived to do simple everyday things well and faithfully, and ended up being a part of the greatest events of our nation. Our generation desires to do and say great things, but often fails to do the everyday things – having faithful, lifetime marriages, raising children into fruitful adulthood, and establishing homes and communities. These are the things which, founded in our faith, bring the most profound sense of accomplishment in the end.
The truth offered by Christ that, "He who is faithful in little will also be faithful in much" was profoundly exemplified in the life of my uncle, and others like him. I can only hope it will be true of me in the end.