MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Dec. 11, 2010) --
Dec. 11, 2009, my grandfather, Carl H. Bolken, passed away after many years of battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Six days later I stood at his funeral in my dress blues, just four months after becoming a Marine.
My grandfather was paid tribute with military honors during his funeral because of his two years served in the Army.
Among family and friends, I saluted my fallen grandfather, humbled to share the bond of military service with him, especially as I observed color guardsmen fold his commemorative flag.
I was handed the flag afterward, and I held it dearly like the first time I held my son. I felt a sense of unworthiness because of what my grandfather meant to our entire family.
My dad, my grandfather’s son, assured me that my grandfather would want me to bear the flag in his honor.
“That is your flag,” my dad said, while he grasped my shoulder with watering eyes.
To uphold the trust my family put in my hands, Dec. 11, a year to the day after my grandfather passed away, I raised the flag in his honor at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., where I am now stationed.
My grandfather’s flag flew on a working man’s day with rainy, overcast skies, which was fitting for the flag honoring a man whose rugged, blue-collar work ethic wouldn’t let a little rain stop him from getting the job done.
My dad tells me my grandfather had an iron fist at one time and didn’t think twice to reprimand. The thought of that makes me grin and wonder what he would have thought of me joining the military.
We never got a chance to discuss the matter, but I wish he could have known my decision to enter the service had a lot to do with him.
There wasn’t exactly a defining moment that inspired my decision to serve, but what always stands out is recalling how growing up I’d frequently gaze at grandfather’s old service photo, similar to those taken nowadays during basic training.
The photo hung in his den where my brother and I would sleep whenever we visited. Neither of us quite understood what the photo stood for.
As I grew older, I started to tie my grandfather’s photo with the man I grew to admire and wondered if his time in the service had shaped him into the man I knew.
I believe it did and that’s why I joined – to do something with my life that mimicked his, to become a man of honor and character like he was.
I joined the Marine Corps in April 2009, and I regret not being able to share my experience with my grandfather. Nonetheless, I am grateful that serving in the Corps permitted me the privilege to fly the flag in his honor.
His flag flew above the air station until nightfall and came down to the music of evening colors, while I held a salute to honor the man I aspire to be.