Despite a great deal of optimism as the New Year approached, 2014 has, thus far, turned out to a rather brutal year in terms of weather and geopolitical strive while the list of good people, who have died, keeps growing. Among them is a man who helped defined America’s Greatest Generation. On Tuesday, May 5th, 2014, the toughest man I have ever known died. Even though he was only half my size, my Great Grandfather Owen Kiser endured the Great Depression, World War II, a career as a structural steel worker, and the death of two sons, along with a myriad of other tribulations.
Like his best friend and loyal wife, with whom he shared a lifetime of love, he did not want a funeral. Aside from the expense that they deemed to be a ‘waste of time and money’ for themselves, they never wanted people standing around crying over their empty husks; “funerals should be about celebrating life,” my Great Grandfather repeatedly told me.
Although my Great Grandfather never sought glory and never wanted to kill another man, he volunteered to join the US Army when America went to war with Nazis Germany, because “it was the right thing to do.” In fact, he cried when he graduated from high school and had to go plant his father’s fields as his dream was to read books all day like the kids who went to Allegheny College, which is the school my younger brother and I graduated from.
My Great Grandfather did, however, like to share his war stories with anyone who would listen. Attesting to his endurance and iron will, he survived several death-defying injuries, including getting shot by a machine gun, dislocating both his legs at the same time, falling from a hundred-plus foot bridge, and getting hit in the head by a boulder, which was sent flying by an artillery round. Certainly, anyone of these incidences would have marked the end of most people’s service and/or life, but my Great Grandfather survived with little more than the loss of his hearing in one ear.
As a highly disciplined and driven man, he did not take kindly to the misconduct and foolish antics of others. He was a model solider who set the standard. One story, which even he found humorous looking back, involved a man who felt it was more important to learn how to sleep with his eyes shut than to learn how to properly pack his parachute. Fortunately, this man was able to hitch a ride on my Grandfather’s parachute, which immediately earned him a knock-out punch in the face once they safely reached the ground.
My Great Grandfather was an honest man, even when it came to his own sins and regrets. His blunt sarcasm and often inappropriate remarks, which my Great Grandmother Eve helped keep in check, could be cutting, but he said the things he said because he cared while he never did learn how to be diplomatic. He was never an emotional person, a.k.a a ‘sissy,’ which is why he never drank tea in public or showed any display of public affection like hugging, yet he was a quietly caring person.
My Great Grandfather was also thoroughly trusting to a fault; violating his trust would hurt him so bad it could earn you a lifetime shun. He always tried to do the right thing and regretted it if he did not know how. He was a role model and father figure for more than just his own children while he and my Great Grandmother were the kind of people who defined the Greatest Generation. In many respects, he was a product of a time when people needed to be tough and he was one of the toughest.
At the same time, he was also ahead of his time in his treatment of his wife as a partner while he was also someone who cared for others in often unseen ways. It was, in fact, his loving wife who tempered his harshness and brought out his best attributes. Just as any two halves of a soul cannot be truly at peace until made one, he has now returned to her after nearly seven years of being forced to say goodbye. That being said, he is something who helped make the world a better place by doing the right thing and making people be better people.