About “The Nuked Man”
My grandfather died on February 23, 2015 of complications from lung cancer and COPD.
I got to talk to him on the phone for the last time like the day before, or maybe it was a few days before he passed. I got to tell him I loved him one last time, and that was enough.
He was a great man. Complicated, and imperfect, and human, but still, he was perfect to me in the way that grandchildren view their grandparents, and he doted on us in the way that fierce family men of the G.I. generation doted.
He used to tell me this story, about a time when I was wee, I was this precocious little something-or-other. We were out by the lake, and I said to him, “Paw-paw, you better give me that firecracker or I’m gonna turn you into a TOAD.” He would chuckle every time he told that story. That was his favorite story to tell me about me. Haha ahhh, I was adorable.
I have vague recollections of summers spent with my grandpa. I remember picking blackberries with him. I remember him pushing me in one of those bright yellow Little Tykes swings that hung on his back porch, and singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in a really deep baritone that would often lull me into a nap. I remember camping out in his silver airstream trailer in the backyard. I remember him treating me to my first banana split. Fond memories.
Those memories are not ever tainted by things I’ve heard from family members since he passed, or things he did later during his life. A good number of my brightest childhood memories surround my grandparents like an impenetrable forcefield made of Werther’s hard candies, crosswords, and The Price is Right.
If done right, your grandchildren will admire you eternally.
My grandfather did it right.
What I know of my grandpa’s early life is this:
He grew up in a Catholic household in Paris, Arkansas, and went to Subiaco Academy.
He then married my grandmother and they had four kids (three boys and a girl, my mother). He enlisted in the U.S. Army at 19 years old in 1949, and retired a Lieutenant Colonel in 1972 at 42 years old.
He was an extremely intelligent man, you could just tell when you talked to him. He asked a lot of questions, and his mind was always working — always lucid — even in old age. And I think probably because of his interest in a great number of things, he had a varied career. He was a military helicopter pilot, a truck driver, a pig farmer, a bail bondsman, a quail farmer, a day trader, a real estate agent, a dulcimer maker, you name it — he probably did it at some point.
I know the most about his military history because it’s very well documented. He served two tours in Korea and one tour in Vietnam. He was a helicopter pilot, and I found this old typed-up document awarding him the distinguished flying cross.
By all accounts, my grandpa was a cool guy.
At my grandpa’s funeral, my uncle John told this story about my grandpa being exposed to a nuclear blast at some base in the Nevada desert back in the 50’s. It was called Operation Teapot. He said my grandpa used to talk about it because it was the first time he’d ever seen duct tape in his life. They were told to patch up the holes on the armored personnel carriers (APCs) with duct tape to keep the radiation out and limit light exposure.
It’s only natural that my overactive imagination and curiosity, combined with a wealth of documents about his military life would lead to a story.
The approach I took was to wait a year, get really into writing on Medium, re-read Slaughterhouse Five, Google a bunch of things, interview my uncle and my mom, and write down about a thousand mostly “made up words.”
So, anyway, that’s how you get “Nuked Man Walking.”
Hope you enjoy reading it. It was inspired by the coolest guy I’ve ever met, my grandpa Jim.
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