Wednesday, August 08, 2012
So we gather again to say our goodbyes and to celebrate a life that each of us will remember in a different way. John Crews had a talent, among many, for finding a way to become almost anything that was asked of him. He started as a boy without a place in the world who became a soldier when his country called; he became a musician and performer when it brought joy to others. He was a teacher and a business creator when he saw the good it could bring to his family, his world, his community – and ultimately he found his place with a family of his own and he found his place with Jo.
He was proud of his military service, and rightfully so. It was a different time and a different nation that called him. It took participation from John and Jo both to make it work but he not only served but served with honor and was decorated for his actions. I think that, more important than the medals or the brave acts in war that earned them was the notion that, when his country called, (as he often said) he was happy to serve. This is a theme that would replay over John’s whole life.
When others needed him, he was a good friend and trusted member of his community. When his family needed him, he served their best interest. When Jo needed him, he did his very best to serve her – even if his form of “helping” often strayed into the realm of “hovering” and mom would have to remind him to back off once in a while.
She wasn’t afraid to tell him what he needed to hear and he did his very best to keep watch over her and because of his devotion it’s near impossible to completely separate his story from hers. They were a sometimes unlikely team but they were partnered nevertheless and while it was Jo who often needed the outward appearances of care John certainly needed her just as much and probably more.
They were members of what we’ve come to call the “Greatest Generation.” Their stories and choices have influenced countless world changes. John, like so many of his peers, often simply did what he believed needed to be done and was reticent to complain. For as much as we talk about the sacrifices of this generation though, and there were many, there were also rewards in his life and things that filled little parts of John’s soul.
Taking the lead (or often strumming rhythm as a tacit favor to other players) on his Martin guitar, “Under the Double Eagle” or “South” were tunes always remembered with fondness. Learning to use a camera and taking countless photos of his family vacations to see the world. Turning his home into a haunted house at Halloween and creating eerie sound effects reels to complete the effect and delight the neighborhood kids. Riding his motorcycle and letting the breeze and the hum of the road blend into a kind of quiet meditation – a world where your direction could be controlled not by complex political or military maneuvers but by the simple act of leaning your body left or right.
Granddad’s war stories were interesting for several reasons. They were bits of history, of course, but to my memory he didn’t start telling many of them until relatively late in life. It was such a short, yet viscerally impactful part of his life and he always struggled to balance the bad memories with the good he felt must have come from our nation’s victory and his part in it.
His stories of the Second World War became steeped and mellowed by time – almost pleasant like his photos from the front where he and his friends smile and wave from ravaged landmarks as they fight across France. Of course we know from some of the stories themselves that was far from an easy experience but that’s how the story was told. For good or bad, better or worse, the retelling of all aspects of his life became a fond memory even if it meant, when the dark parts inevitably reared their heads, he’d try to deal with them on his own.
The stories were worth it for him. They are still worth telling and re-telling even when everyone’s heard them – even if you’re not sure if it really happened. Just like this departing Greatest Generation, each of us can change the world. Even if all we do is make it a happier place for a little while.
So we will all have different memories and stories from our time with John. Some of mine are learning to use a pill counter at the drugstore. Watching my granddad and uncle play snooker in the Odessa “Ballroom” when I was still small enough to sit under the table and watch balls drop into the pockets above. Riding on the back of granddads motorcycle out where the Midland/Odessa airport fence met the interstate and watching planes take off over our heads.
The team of Joelmae Bateman and John Crews certainly had adventures as separate kids before they met but they had even more together and it’s together that most of us will remember them. John was proud of his 68 years of “sympathy cards” even if mom was a little tired of the joke. It’s a different world without their ongoing influence and there’s a lot of history that has now passed from our time but the story they helped write is far from over – we know full well that it’s up to us to keep adding our chapters, now. Every generation can be great, it just takes people like John and Jo to make it so.
We’ll miss them, but it wasn’t right they should ever be apart. Now Jo can run and fly and see the universe and John has nothing to worry him as he enjoys the warm breeze from an eternally restful cycle ride and no concern but music and happy memories all vivid and clear as though they were happening right now.
John – dad, granddad, great-granddad – in so many ways… thank you for your service.
Where ever John and Jo are now they are together and that’s where he should be.
Visit this site, created by John’s son, to learn more about his life and military service.
In addition, you can view the flag service portion of John’s memorial below.