I always loved going to my Grampa’s house. When I was a baby, Grampa would relieve my mom by walking me to his house every day, just the two of us. I thought it was hysterical to throw my hat as far as I could, and he loved holding on to a stroller with his granddaughter, rather than to a cane.
When I got a little older, Grampa would pile all of his grandchildren into his sky blue, ivory fringe-topped Harley Davidson golf cart, affectionately called “The Harley,” and drive us around Balboa Island. I can still feel the wind coming off the bay, hear the laughter of my cousins interrupted by the cawing of pelicans, taste the sugar rush of a pink hippo cookie from Dad’s Donuts, smell the fresh beach air, and see the toothy smile on Grampa’s face.
When my grandparents moved in with us when I was 9, going to Grampa’s side of the house was just as special. He welcomed me home every day, told jokes and stories, and helped with homework. At first I would rush to the rhythmic cling of his cane, then eventually to the electric whir of his scooter, then the metallic swish of his wheelchair, and eventually, in those last few weeks in 2004 when I was 16, to his silent bedside.
Home and family were always all that mattered to Grampa, probably because he knew he was so lucky to have them. Born months early at only 2.5 pounds in 1925, he would not have made it had his family not had the untested idea to incubate him in the oven. When his mother died when he was a toddler, and his father abandoned him and his little brother, they were raised by their grandparents, immigrants from a famine-ridden Sweden. They raised their grandchildren as patriots and let them know how lucky they were to live in America, even during the Depression.
When Grampa was 17, his cousin, who had been raised essentially as an older brother, died in WWII. When he found out, Grampa wrote the number “18” on a piece of paper, placed it in his shoe, marched down to the Army recruiting center, and answered “Yes, Sir” when asked if he was over 18.
Grampa spent two years away from home to fight for his home. The sweet and humble man that he was, we always had to rely on his accolades and reading between the lines of his stories to figure out what a true hero he was in WWII. It was not until recently that we found this video of him and his fellow soldiers liberating the Ludwidlust concentration camp, forcing the townspeople to respectfully bury the dead, and marching them through the camp so they could never deny what had happened. The Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC awarded him a Liberator’s Pin posthumously.
At age 19, after receiving the Bronze Star of Bravery, when shrapnel permanently disabled him on the battlefield, he finally came home, with the help of the Red Cross, especially the nurses. He would joke that it all worked out for the best, because he was the first boy home to Sioux City, so he got to marry Frankie, the princess of the town, my Gramma.
I am so honored to be a part of the American Red Cross, especially the Service to the Armed Forces department. I know Grampa would be proud to see that I grew up to become a part of the very same exact organization that helped him through WWII and is still today helping service members and their families. I hope that along with his wife who loves him to this day, 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and now 5 great-grandchildren (with another on the way), my work at the Red Cross is a part of his legacy. I work in Washington, DC at the National Headquarters, a short walk from his home for the last decade: Arlington National Cemetery.
Grampa- today, on Memorial Day, I’m coming over to your house.
Herbert Frank Marshall 1925-2004
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