After my grandfather died this summer, we went through his things: papers, medals, photo albums that hadn’t been opened in twenty years. In one of them we found this photo; none of us knew when or where it was taken, but it seems like it must have been right after he signed up for WWII, before he shipped out. I try to think of what it must have been like back then, but I guess a wartime America was something you had to live through to understand. Even now, when we’re supposedly fighting a new global war, the circumstances are very different. There’s no draft, no rationing. And not nearly as much uncertainty as they had back then.
It’s tough to imagine what things must have been like when this picture was taken. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed, Hitler was rampaging Europe, and the Japanese were trying to take control of the Pacific. America was facing enemies on both sides, with no guarantee of victory. And in Brooklyn New York, a kid named Andrew Schrantz was walking to the recruitment office and putting his name on a list.
The kid in this picture was a young soldier like all the rest. I can’t begin to guess how many other pictures just like it were taken, and how many thousands of those ended up sitting on a mantlepiece as the only reminder of a lost son. This kid, though, was one of the lucky ones. Not that he knew it at the time. He didn’t know he was going to have the chance to get married, have kids, or have grandkids. He didn’t know he was going to travel the US and retire in California. He didn’t know what the next 60 years had in store for him. All he knew was that he was going to war.
My grandfather didn’t mind telling his war stories. He actually didn’t have very many of them; he was stationed on an aircraft carrier, and they were never supposed to get near the front lines of battle. But he was on the seas for two years, and he had plenty of memories about those times. Sometimes I thought I should listen closer, record his stories, jot them down, maybe put them on the Web. I knew that one day they’d be gone forever, and I’d regret not paying closer attention. Well, now they are, and I do.
I sifted further down through the pictures, past the War years and into the Family years. I got to know him a little bit better through those pictures. One photo in particular stood out: he’s sitting in the lobby of a hotel, dressed rather sharp, legs crossed, argyle socks showing, holding a cigarette and just laughing away. I don’t know what he’s laughing at or where the hotel was, but it’s one of those pictures that perfectly captures a moment. It made me want to be in that hotel with him, doing whatever he was doing. I had to leave that picture with my grandmother, and I didn’t get a chance to scan it in. But one day I’ll get a copy of it.
Those photos made me think of him as more than just my grandfather. I saw him as he was when he was younger, before he decided to settle down for retirement. I saw him as the raucous New Yorker he really was. He did have his faults; he was kind of loud and a bit of a drunkard, but all the same he was a fun guy, a good father, and a husband so loyal that he died in his wife’s arms.
My whole life I knew him as “Pop-Pop” – after his death I learned to know him as Andy.