My Granddad, Lee Jolles, passed away on Wednesday. I spoke at his funeral and below my eulogy is a picture of him with Ethan, Garrett and Luke in 2008. He meant a lot to me and many other people.
My Granddad was my biggest hero growing up. Anybody who is ever around me for more than about ten minutes knows how I feel about him.
Granddad to me represented everything that a man should strive to be and everything that a kid should look up to. From the time I was old enough to remember anything I can think of Granddad and how it was to be around him. I love him very much & I will always miss him. I consider myself lucky to have had him in my life for almost 39 years.
To me, and I bet to most other people who knew him he was always loving, always fun to be around, always generous, & always compassionate. But mostly he was always someone I wanted to be and be like.
It’s impossible to sum up in just a few words what it was like to be his grandson but I will share a few stories that I hope will make you smile and maybe you have your own remembrances that will be rekindled. I know these may seem like insignificant things but I remember them vividly and I have a hundred memories of things like this… Granddad spending time building, making, or doing something for his grand children.
As a little kid my brother and I always played “army men” and other games that kept us occupied and running around all over the place. One day Granddad showed up with some of my uncles and with my Dad they built a tree house for Jamie and me. Granddad of course took charge (he always did) and spear-headed this with my Dad and uncles and what they built was in typical “Jolles” fashion: it wasn’t a tree house… it was a huge, free-standing, POW camp style, fortified military outpost. It was a 20 foot (at least) high A-frame platform with ropes, a ladder, railings, etc. It was incredible – but typical… it could have been used in a Rambo movie. When the neighborhood kids came over they were awe-struck. The bubble-gum literally fell out of their mouths. This is an example of something he did for me and my brother… but he spent his life doing this kind of stuff for other kids: be they Jolles’ or kids in the Boy Scouts.
Another time as a little kid my brother and I stayed for a week or so at Grand mom’s and Granddad’s cabin in Coolfont. He had prepared. He brought out a five gallon bag of those little plastic army men for us. Actually, if I remember correctly, I was doing something else and happened to see Jamie playing in the dirt outside. I went outside and saw literally hundreds of army men set up on a dirt mound. However, they weren’t just green any more. They were all painted. They were camouflaged… each one had a painted face, a painted rifle, and a gun metal gray bazooka. I think there were a few model helicopters and tanks laying around also. I can’t even imagine how long that took for him to paint. Who would do that? What kind of guy sits down and spends HOURS painting 2” tall army men for his two grandsons? We played with those forever because he let us take them home. I wish I still had them. Thinking back, now that I have my own little kids, I think of how much joy that must have given him to lay those out on a work bench and then spend literally hours painting them up for us. I bet he enjoyed every second of it. He loved doing things like that for us.
During one of our stays in Coolfont he took my brother and I to town so we could get fishing licenses. While we were on this errand I remember that it was a little chilly and rainy. As we were walking we saw a woman getting ready to cross the street. He had Jamie and I help the woman. That’s the kind of Granddad he was. He wanted his grandsons to be helpful and good kids. Anyone who knows him knows very well that was not a one-off, or an act. Granddad spent his whole life helping people who needed help – from helping women across the street, to building tree-forts that a hundred kids could play on, to going to Goshen Scout Reservation every fall to help rebuild it for the Boy Scouts after every year’s hard wear.
Growing up and knowing him I was always able to talk to him and to hear about what it was like for him and the stuff he did. I have always, throughout my life, layered his stories over my own experiences like tracing paper.
I was a Marine reservist and while I was in college I joined the rugby team and a whole new world opened up to me. The rugby team was made up of almost all veterans or reservists like me. Most of the guys on the team were in or had been in the military. I remembered Granddad’s stories of going to college after World War 2 with all the guys that used the GI Bill to go to school. He spoke about those times so fondly I wanted to have the same experiences. I always thought that I was having a similar time to Grandad and this is just one illustration of how I have tried to trace his life over mine.
I went to graduate school when my wife and I had our first two children. We brought the first one home and I remember sleeping in the basement so I could have some peace and quiet the night before exams. During those times I thought about his stories of working in the Post Office at night while going to school during the day after the war… I’ve always compared myself to him in order to see how I “stack up”. I know I am not the only one. He has made all of us better for it. He was a special person and you did not have to be around him for very long to realize it.
Another time, right after I finished Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, he and I were sitting down and he told me about an experience he had at Camp Lejeune with the Marines. It’s hard to describe but looking back – I think he was relaying to me what it meant to be a Marine and the responsibility I had. It was a simple story but he told me that he was in the field with “my Marines” and it started raining. He said they were all red-eyed from sleep deprivation and the best kids he was ever around. He took out his rain poncho and put it on and he noticed that none of the Marines had their poncho’s on. They all used their poncho’s to cover up and protect the machine guns, mortars, and radios. He said he felt like he let them down because he was protected from the rain so he immediately took it off and gave it to them for the weapons. I think he was saying to me… you’re a Marine now and you are part of something bigger and don’t forget it.
He was so proud of my Dad, my brother and me for being Marines. I know he loved it – having a son and two grandsons that were US Marines. He used to call me, “my Gyriene” and “Jarhead”. I loved that. It was one of the best things about being a Marine – making Granddad proud. What I never said to him, but I am sure he knew, was that joining the Marines was as much about pleasing him as any other reason. His approval meant everything to me… and probably the same for a lot of other people in this room.
Granddad was a WW2 veteran. I think everyone knows it. I tell anyone who is important to me that my Granddad was a Navy Corpsman on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. More accurately – I tell anyone who will listen that my Grandfather was a hero in World War 2, on Omaha Beach and a man among men.. Uncle Richard told me, many years ago, that he remembered hearing Granddad wake up from the nightmares when he was a child. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. At 20 years old I was still a kid but he wasn’t. He only told me about it a couple of times. It was enough to know that it helped shape who and what he was. He told me that when he reached the beach it was “snowing tracers”. Tracers are bullets that have magnesium or phosphorous embedded in the back so the gunner can see where his bullets are impacting. Usually these are in machine gun links as every fifth round. That means when you see them there are 4 bullets between each. He said it was “snowing tracers”. Through that he made it, alive, to the cliff wall on the beach… then he turned around and ran through it three times to drag wounded men from the surf up to the cliff wall. Think about that and the guts it would take to run through those machine gun bullets, landmines, and artillery. My grandfather was a part of one of the greatest military battles in world history and put himself in constant mortal danger to help hurt soldiers. That’s the kind of man my Granddad was.
A few years ago I was sitting alone with Granddad. He said something peculiar to me. He said, “Pete, I am the last one… like Chingachcook.” Of course this was a reference to him being the last Jolles brother alive. I was speechless at that. I know that even though he was sad about being the last Jolles brother he could look around at his life and see his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and it would make him very satisfied. I have four sons and they already know who and what their great-grandfather was. My third son is named Luke Jolles. This was intentional by me. I wanted his name to sound as close to Lee Jolles as possible. He’s only three but he already has some traits I recognize: witty, gregarious, funny, willful. When I get home tonight and help my wife put them to bed I am going to give Luke Jolles an extra squeeze before I turn out the lights. I’ll do that for my Granddad and for everyone that was a part of Lee Jolles’s life.