On Tuesday I was a pallbearer at my grandfather’s funeral. It’s the first time since eighth grade that I had lost someone so close to me.
You forget that empty feeling after a while. A week earlier, as I watched him take his last breath, it fell over me like an old and familiar blanket. He’s gone.
For a while I felt regretful about not prying more stories out of him, or I’d wish other people in my family could have treated him better. That lasted a day or two.
Faced with having to prepare for the funeral, I sifted through hundreds of pictures. Some black and white photos from the 30s, war pictures from World War II and some very 1970s shots of a grown man with his children. I flipped to the 80s and 90s where he was at every one of my birthday parties, holding me and smiling.
I made a gallery of the better pictures, and put this up on a screen during visitation. I also sent these scanned photos to Costco for reprints and my aunties and uncles used those to create two amazing poster boards that made people stop and shake their heads in wonder.
Near the end of this process, emptiness was replaced with tremendous pride and newfound perspective. To have lived through so much, to have worked so hard and still accomplish what he did was simply amazing to me.
And through it all he was humble. Proud but not vain. Strong but not loud. I realized how honored I was to be his grandson. I want to work harder in my life to make him proud. I want my grandchildren to feel what I feel now when I pass.
When I found out I could write and speak as a part of his eulogy I was excited. On the drive home my sister and I scrambled for ideas. She mentioned a MacArthur quote and I looked it up. It was perfect. So I mentally wrote the outline in my head: Duty, Honor, Country. I slept.
The next morning, the day of his funeral, I woke up at 5:30 AM. I wrote what I felt was the best way to explain what I thought about him. I figure it’s best to just share it with you.
Here it goes…
Thank you all for coming here today to celebrate my grandfather’s life. My name is Michael, and I’m the oldest of Ted’s grandsons. I’m honored to speak on behalf of a younger generation, and hopefully I can help describe what our grandfather meant to us.
Over the past week or so my family and I have seen a lot of pictures. One of these pictures was of General Douglas MacArthur and his wife getting off a plane in the Philippines. I don’t know why grandpa kept this picture, but I assume it meant something to him. And because of this, I wanted to open today with a quote from the late general taken from a speech given in 1962 at West Point:
Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
Our grandfather took these three principles very seriously. He spent a lifetime building on them.
Grandpa understood duty. He fulfilled many duties in his time. That of a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a soldier and employee. When he turned 18, he served his country in World War II without hesitation. He continued to serve at Pearl Harbor in the shipyard for decades more. He helped build Outrigger hotels with more than 40 years of service. But despite all the things he had to do, he always had time for me. When I was a kid, I remember him taking time between his two jobs to cook me saimin after school. He always fulfilled his duty as a grandfather.
Grandpa was an honorable man. Honor means a lot of things. It includes honesty, fairness and integrity. I also believe it includes humility and modesty. If you ask anybody in this room, it’ll become very obvious that grandpa was all of these things. He didn’t boast about what he had, and didn’t whine about what he didn’t have.
Grandpa loved his country. He was willing to die for us in World War II. He helped rebuild Hawaii after the war. He fixed countless ships at the shipyard. He always bought American cars and loved his Cadillacs. During his lifetime he proved that if you’re willing to work hard, you can achieve your dreams – in that way he showed us what it means to be an American.
Duty, Honor, Country. To be honest, I don’t think my generation understands these principles as well as grandpa did. The challenges grandpa faced were much more daunting than what I’ve had to face in my lifetime.
Today we worry about what cell phone to buy, what laptop to order or what’s happening on facebook or twitter. Grandpa saw the great depression, world war 2, women’s suffrage, racial segregation, vietnam. He lived in a different time. A more challenging time. And that’s what makes his accomplishments even more amazing to me.
It’s our responsibility to recognize what grandpa did and live our lives in a way that honors him. So that when it’s our time to go, our families will be gathered as we are today and speak fondly of what we did in our lives.
I’ll leave you with a quote from a comedian. Conan O’Brien said this on his last Tonight Show episode. You may like him, you may not. But what he said really stuck with me.
All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.
Grandpa was a lot of things, but he was never cynical. He was an honest, hard working man who saw the good in people. He was kind and worked hard his entire life and I think we can all agree that some amazing things happened for him.
…and that was the end of it.
I’m not sure where grandpa went, or if I’ll see him again — but I’m glad I knew him, and I’m grateful for the inspiration he’s given me. I think the most important thing he did for me and all of my cousins was set the bar high. We’ve got a lot of work to do to reach his level. But we can do it if we follow his example — don’t whine, be kind, work hard, and get the job done.
Thanks, Grandpa. Rest in peace.