Veteran’s Day stirs my soul.
The gesture made by men and women to place others’ lives ahead of their own moves me, and I am touched by the sacrifice, courage and commitment these soldiers make on our behalf.
This year will be no different; and yet, it will be entirely different and particularly poignant.
This year my family is saying goodbye to the epitome of an American veteran —Brig. Gen. James M. Abraham — my stepfather, who died on Sunday. He would have turned 93 on Nov. 21.
General Jim, as we affectionately called him, lived his life simply and profoundly, leaving an indelible impact on each and every person who had the privilege to know him. Family, faith, integrity, courage and commitment were the pillars of his well-lived life.
When Jim joined our family nearly 20 years ago, we greeted him with some skepticism — not uncommon when widowed parents remarry.
There was never any doubt that he landed on the beaches of Normandy during World War II, but when the stories included jeep rides with Gen. George Patton, who he claimed gave him his first field commission right there on Omaha Beach in 1945, doubts were stirred.
Hearing that Jim received bachelor of science degrees in both electrical and industrial engineering from Ohio University; that he held several patents for medium pressure systems; and also developed several key programs for the U.S. Army by developing innovative concepts in ROTC instruction at Ohio University and later used nationwide, my brother and I would mutter under our breath, “Yeah, right.”
We couldn’t believe he owned a restaurant, making the best tuna salad known to God or man, or that he served as the assistant adjunct general under Ohio Gov. James Rhodes. We gave a knowing glance to each other as he humbly shared that he was a tax expert and created a unique — and much-copied — financing model for the city of Gahanna, Ohio, where he served as president of the planning commission and director of public service.
He wasn’t bragging, mind you. He was just sharing his stories over family dinners and get-togethers — innocently enough.
But, we doubted. I mean, how can any one man do all of those things and do them so well?
We continued to listen to his tales and bite our tongues until his 80th birthday celebration, when speaker after speaker got up to share their admiration for the general, confirming every last detail of his incredible life.
Yes, my brother and I ate crow that day. And yes, his tuna salad really was the best ever.
Beyond the many, many awards and accolades, Jim was simply a good man, who loved God, his family and this country. He came of a generation that put duty first and lived by a moral standard that could not be broken. He was the embodiment of integrity.
The man was a fighter and he never gave up for what was good and right. I don’t know how many times he fell off a ladder in his later years, but he’d heal quickly and head on out to climb right back up that ladder to help a neighbor fix a storm gutter.
He simply served others, and it never occurred to him to say ‘no’ to anyone who needed help. He performed tax returns for free every year to retired veterans requiring his expertise.
And he was good to us. My children and I stayed with Mom and Jim every summer when we returned home from South Korea. The memories of those days are so very bittersweet today.
How profound it was to line the main street in Gahanna each year for the Fourth of July parade, waiting for a glimpse of the general in his dress uniform atop an old jeep — and usually with a grandchild by his side — waving to the crowd. He made us all proud to be American.
Jim tried for so very long to take care of my mother. Two months ago, it was clear he could no longer care for her and we had to move her to a facility. He hated letting her go, and today it is a brutal realization that Alzheimer’s prevents Mom from understanding that she has lost her beloved husband.
His fighting spirit was just as evident during several bouts with cancer. General Jim kept fighting as if he were once again on the beach in Normandy with other American soldiers, refusing to surrender.
My family and I came to love General Jim so very much; to admire him and to want to be more like him. His lasting legacy is a simple one to live by — love God, love family, love country and always do the right thing.
Jim leaves behind a son and a daughter, Dan and Michele, from his first marriage to his beloved Meryl, grandchildren who adore him and a nation so very grateful for his service and love for this country.
Thank you, General Jim, for setting the example for us all. We will miss you. Rest in peace, soldier.