It’s really hard to sum up the life that my grandfather Charles Harrison lived. His life was filled with adventure, laughter and strength. He passed away Nov. 4 after 89 years of a great life.
Pee-Paw, as I’ve always called him, wasn’t just a grandfather — he was like a father figure to me. He was the one who built my first dollhouse from scratch, drove me to school every day until I got my license, changed the oil in my car, taught me how to shoot guns (the 12 gauge was my favorite) and most importantly, he taught me how to live life.
Pee-Paw was never the type of man to just sit back and do nothing. He was always on the go. He worked as a traveling salesman up until he was in his 70s. He loved to travel the world with my grandmother, my mom and friends. One of his favorites was his trip to London in 2007 with my mom. As they were touring St. Paul’s Cathedral, Pee-Paw was chatting with the tour guide, Mick. He found out Mick was in London at the same time he was during World War II helping clean up after several bombings around St. Paul’s. Pee-Paw said he felt honored to meet someone so many years later that helped the soldiers during such a devastating time.
Pee-Paw always had the best stories to tell. One of my favorites was when he was a teenager growing up in Granite Falls, N.C. He and his best friend, Cotton, snuck out in the middle of the night and planted hundreds of turnip seeds in the town square. He said they did it just to see if they could get away with it and they did. Ironically enough, Granite Falls is building a veterans monument in the same town square and Pee-Paw’s name will be inscribed on the wall of the monument. It’s scheduled to open Veterans Day 2014. I feel like turnip seeds should be planted there again.
But his stories about his experiences in World War II were my favorite to hear. Pee-Paw was in the Army Air Corps and was a tail gunner for a B-24 plane. He was stationed in England and flew 31 missions with two different crews and was the only survivor of these crews. He fought in five battles, including the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. He received five medals/commendations, including the Purple Heart.
Some war veterans don’t like talking about their experiences, but Pee-Paw was different. He actually went to several different schools over the years sharing his war stories with students and teachers. He was also featured in local newspapers and on TV news programs back in N.C. He was always willing to talk about the war no matter how painful the memories were.
And although he’s not here anymore, I am so grateful he took the time over the past few years to record his experiences from World War II on cassette tapes for me and my mom. I won’t be able to listen to them for a while, but I’m so glad I have them. Those tapes are priceless and something I will always cherish.
So this Veterans Day will be bittersweet because I always called him on that day to say thank you for everything he’s done. He truly was the greatest man I’ve ever known. But on Monday, I will try not to be really sad and focus on the great life Pee-Paw had and how proud he was to serve our country.
Tori Boone is a copy editor for the Gwinnett Daily Post and SCNI newspapers.