To the Journal editor:
Earlier this deer season, I returned to camp to learn that a friend had shot his buck. We would all be going to drag it out, though this would not be a typical drag.
The deer was in a remote area, through a swamp and some very thick woods. No four wheelers or UTV. We would be doing this old school, and were in for an adventure we would remember for a lifetime.
We trudged through the swamp, more liquid than solid, and through the woods to the deer. The trail was only one man wide; dragging that deer was an exercise in physical and mental stamina we complained bitterly about, but all secretly relished. It was confirmation of our toughness and abilities as outdoorsmen.
When we got back to camp, Grampa was waiting for us to have a glass of wine to celebrate our adventure. At 87 years of age, his hunting days are a memory. After hearing our tale several times, the distance getting longer, the swamp got wetter, the country more rugged, and he trundled off to bed. It suddenly occurred to me, that our task hadn't really been all that impressive.
You see, he wasn't always Grampa. In April 1945, he was 19 year old Pharmacist's Mate First Class Robert Paquette. He was a corpsman with the Marines at Okinawa. He wasn't dragging deer in the peaceful Upper Peninsula woods. He was a stretcher bearer carrying wounded Marines from the battlefield, under constant enemy fire, risking his life to save U.S. servicemen.
Several times, he handed litters off, only to have the new litter bearer shot, continuing on with a wounded Marine to an aid station. Instead of two hours, he spent the spring of 1945 using his skills to save Marines from a myriad of battlefield wounds.
The sands in the hourglass that make up the masterpiece that is Grampa are fast running out, and there is nothing any of us can do.
I have known him my entire adult life. He remains the one person that is in my estimation a true American hero and the yardstick by which I measure myself and my actions. That adventure will be something I carry with me all of my days.
However, what I will remember most of that night is sitting with Grampa, having a glass of homemade wine with the greatest man I've ever known.