Tom Brokaw called the World War II generation "the greatest
generation." Whether you agree with Mr. Brokaw or not,
the generation that lived through the Second World War was,
indeed, a great generation and produced amazing individuals.
Such people were John and Eileen McCormick. John fought WWII
as an officer in the Navy, was on deck for the signing of
Japan's surrender to America and thought only one thought:
now I get to go home. While John fought, Eileen worked in
the War Department, leaving Minnesota and utilizing her skills
as she could to hurry along the war.
In 1944 she wrote the following poem about surviving without
her husband while he was away at war.
Declaration of Dependence
There may be some who, watching me, will note
How well I've learned to live while you're away,
And on the surface, there may well appear
To be great truth in what they have to say.
For I have learned, in these long months gone by
To labor at my work, with purpose deep,
Knowing that, blessedly, when night time comes
My tired eyes will volunteer to sleep.
Yes, I have learned, with endless time and pain
To do alone what you'd have done for me,
And, doing it, I?ve schooled myself to smile
Lest I give way to need of sympathy.
And so, they who have watched me live each day
In seeming confidence; may feel it true,
That I have learned in these long months alone
To live?independently?without you.
Yet, only God and you and I can know
In just how great and measureless a part,
Upon your deep though distant love, depends
The very beating of my lonely heart.
By Eileen for John, January 1944
John died in February. Last Sunday, a little over three months
later, Eileen followed him into eternity. Both their final
hours were filled by the presence of their five surviving
children, several of whom were with Eileen when she breathed
her last. In the three short months since John had died, she
had organized their home, put it on the market, sold it, wrote
every one of her thank you notes and then followed him.
They were great friends. I spent a fair amount of time with
them over the years, having known them all my life, and I
remember once being with them at lunch in Hudson when they
had delivered our Adirondack chairs to the country house [the
ones he had built for us in their basement and assembled in
their dining room] and watched their exchange as they quipped
back and forth, a good natured ribbing that was infused with
a glow of love and knowledge. They had, at that point, been
together 61 years.
Growing up I called them Mr. and Mrs. McCormick. Sometime
in my thirties, John gently pulled me aside and told me that
he did not intend to tell me again his name was John and Mrs.
McCormick was Eileen.
We became friends and I loved them, individually and together.
Their departures, one so quickly upon the other, leaves me
feeling bereft, having lost two good friends in too short
Their son John said it seemed I was very affected by Eileen's
passing. I am.
With her gone, he, too, is now definitively gone. A great
unit is gone.
I have lived all my life knowing and loving this remarkable
group of people, these "greatest generationals"
and their children and their children's children and in some
cases their children's children's children.
Goodness! I was just a neighbor, a quirky little kid who
lived in the house on the corner, next to the Johnson?s which
was next to the Smith?s which was the yard that backed up
And now nearly half a century has gone by and all of us live
far from our roots in Minneapolis but I know all these people
and their presence has warmed me over the years.
My friendship and love for their daughter Sarah, my oldest
friend, generated an enormous body of individuals with whom
I have had a relationship and for whom I am much the richer.
They have deeply affected my life.
God bless. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest[s],
John and Eileen.