My Great Uncle Rooster is a man I wish I’d known. In my family, he is the worshipped one, the closest one of us has ever to come to touching greatness, at least in the last century. Now, all that remains of him are a few relics stuck in drawers and a handful of faded, barely discernible photographs. He died in 1929, obviously well before my time.
In his teens and early twenties, he served in World War I, earning the Victory Medal shown here. I found it while rummaging through a box at my parents’ house, looking for something else. I knew that he served, but I never knew there was a medal, something that made the rest of his story hold even more cilantro for me.
Soldiers served and came home back then, much as they do today, broken and scarred by what they witnessed. I’m sure my Great Uncle Rooster was no different. Doggedly, though, he determined to do something for which he had talent – play baseball – making little money along the way.
It is rumored in my family that he played for the Yankees in the 1920’s, though I cannot find him officially listed anywhere. We do have a solid gold baseball watch fob that they gave him as a gift, and that is the only concrete link. Apparently, he played. Increasingly, he drank. Ultimately, he died in Boston in an accident in 1929.
Was his self destructiveness caused by what he witnessed during the Great War, the viciousness of which has been relegated to distant history now because no one survives to keep it alive for the rest of us? From all indications, he was never the same upon his return, much as those who sacrifice to protect us today are ever altered by their own experiences.
I cannot thank my Great Uncle Rooster for his sacrifice that ultimately deprived the world of him too soon. On this Memorial Day, though, I want to remember him, to honor him specifically for the day. If I’m the only one who does, he will live, just a little.