Tribute to Uncle John

Read at his memorial service, Feb. 2, 2017. He passed away at the Veterans Home in Augusta, Maine on Jan. 30, 2017. I loved him very much. Click here for his obituary.

It’s hard to know where to begin: I’ve known my Uncle John (my mom Caroline’s bro) as long as anyone. I always think of Maine when John comes to mind even though he grew up in New Hampshire. He had Maine roots because his father Otto was born in Kingfield and raised in

Uncle John
John home on leave in 1944.

New Portland so he wasn’t from away as native Mainers like to say.

His haunts were Augusta and Birch Point. His priorities were his family, tinkering, a few hobbies, his friends and Canadian Club and water. The later was upgrade from Calverts which he drank for many years. His acknowledgement that Calverts was cheap booze came from his nickname for it, Culverts. Fitting for a highway engineer.

Uncle John’s one liners were legendary and I hope to lighten these proceedings with a few of those in a minute. But I’ve also been asked to talk about his military service because he almost never spoke of it.

That wasn’t because he witnessed the horrors of war close-up. What he did was dangerous, but as a B-24 navigator, he was distanced from the carnage. He was told if they crashed in the North Sea, no one was coming to get them. That was his biggest fear. I seem to recall that one or two times he said an engine failed or he got them lost. And they encountered the inevitable flack over Germany, but by early 1945 when he flew his 22 missions, attacks from enemy planes were all but gone.

Only very late in life did Uncle John talk about his service to his country, but just a little. His reasoning was the essence of the man: He was doing his duty and that was it. He was a Boy Scout literally and figuratively.

But in 2010 when we visited the WWII Memorial, he displayed emotion in recalling the crews he knew that were lost. I am sure visiting the Maine and New Hampshire memorials in particular also reminded him that a close boyhood friend and two cousins never came home.

In many of the tributes since his passing, several people describe him as great or amazing. I can’t think of anyone who would scoff more at such characterizations.

John at Birch Point, 1973

He never sought the limelight or greatness. He would probably describe himself as average, but everyone here today knows better. I would describe him as quiet, always busy, dignified, handsome, humorous, peppery, warm, dutiful, highly intelligent, capable, and thoroughly left brained.

After all, this was engineer who timed hamburgers on the grill with a stopwatch. Doesn’t everyone, he once asked.

He was always someone I wanted to see, the same way I feel about Ruth, his wife of 65 years. He had a wonderful smile, a wry wit and loved to laugh. Even when he was struggling in the past few weeks, we could make him laugh. He couldn’t figure out why he was in the hospital, but could recall things deep in his past.

His son Johnnie texted me well into this ordeal to say his dad was cracking him up reciting one of his cheers. Those along with a limericks and corny rhymes were burned into his consciousness. This time it was a Boomalacka Chickalacka cheer about his alma mater Concord High School.

Impeccably and exclusively clad from head to toe in L.L. Bean attire, he once said if he they sold underwear, he’d buy that from them too. His tastes were simple and quintessentially Maine.

One night about 25 years ago, he was at dinner at our house in West Newbury, Massachusetts. He was always anxious to go home to his beloved Maine or as he said that evening, “get back to America.”

Last summer, Ann and I were on our way to Birch Point and called to see if John and Ruth needed anything at Shaw’s. John answered and without missing a beat, shot back “How do I know what I don’t have?” That stopped me in my tracks.

John cried more often that you might imagine and no more than when the doctor told him to put away his precious Gravely tractor forever. This time, it was Ruth’s turn for a one liner: “I always wondered which he loved more: me or the Gravely.” It was you, Ruth.

Then there was Uncle John’s dietary advice: “Don’t eat anything you can’t spell.” For sure, he could not spell “vegetable.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone who didn’t like, love and respect him. He was a role model for me in many ways. I wanted to be like him and some ways, I am. Goodbye uncle John. We will never forget you.

 

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