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In Memoriam

May 31, 2010

It’s Memorial Day. The unofficial-but-it’s-official-because-we-SAY-it’s-official start to summer means a day filled with grilling (remember folks, barbecue is a noun, not a verb) and hopefully a little time–at the least–honoring those folks in our families and our circle of friends that suited up in the uniform of The United States.

In the interest of fulfilling my end of the bargain, let me take a moment to tell you a bit about my two late grandfathers, both of whom fought in WWII.

My mother’s father was L.D. (Leon David) Hunnings. He was a cargo pilot in the Air Force, and served in the Pacific.

My mother's father, bottom row, center.

He was as kind and gentle-hearted a man as I’ve ever met, but one of my grandmother’s favorite stories is of a time during the war when he was forced to make an emergency landing as his plane was running low on fuel. He was told repeatedly by the radio tower that the airstrip wasn’t clear and he’d have to wait, to which my grandfather finally fired back, “Clear that **** runway because I’m landing this plane regardless!”

Knowing him, he probably washed his OWN mouth out with soap once he returned to his barracks.

My father’s father was also named L.D. (Lawrence Duke), and served on a ship in the Navy. He enlisted after the war began, and earned the nickname amongst his fellow enlistees as “Sparrow Legs.” I recall hearing several theories as to why he wound up with Sparrow Legs as a nickname, but the one that seemed to fit best was his slender frame (that he passed on genetically to my father and me). He wrote home often to his family in Gray’s Creek, NC. It’s from him that I suppose I gained my desire for writing, as–having read his letters home–he had a very clear voice on paper and a keen eye for things that transpired around him.

My father's father, top row, left.

He would later go on to write a memoir of his time in the war, as well as his life growing up on a farm in rural NC.

But perhaps of more relevance to this blog, it’s worth noting that both of my grandfathers graduated from State, as you can see in the attached images of their Agromeck class photos. My mother’s father was a member of the class of ’43, but with just one semester remaining until graduation he decided to enlist in the Air Force to avoid getting drafted in the Army. He returned to State after the war and finished his final semester in 1947 to graduate with a degree in agricultural engineering. To my surprise as I was looking through the 1943 Agromeck, I learned he ran track and even earned a letter in the sport. That was something he’d never shared with me, as modesty was one of his strong suits.

My father’s father attended State on the G.I. Bill after the war and graduated in 1950 with a degree in Forestry. He’d later get a Soil Science degree from Duke, and was one of the first folks in North Carolina to be certified as a Soil scientist in NC.  His degree from Duke is perhaps why I have the smallest of soft spots for the Blue Devils at times when I’m not feeling ornery about matters of school allegiance.

It was they that “raised me right,” loading my parents up with plenty of red clothes, hats, Wolfpack footballs and basketballs. They are why I became a State fan, why I went to State and perhaps the reason why you’re reading this blog today.

This evening when I’m tipping back a Miller High Life, I’ll take a moment to toast them. I hope you take a moment to toast your military family and friends, as well.

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