The real tragedy of my grandfather’s funeral was that he wasn’t alive to enjoy it. As my parents and brother and I stood beside his grave in Arlington National Cemetery, as the Honor Guard folded the flag draped atop his coffin, each movement a step in a beautifully precise dance, each of us had the same thought: how much Lt. Col. George Shepard, who loved the country that had saved his life, would have cherished this moment.
My grandfather, born Max Shapiro, came from a family of Jewish immigrants in Bridgeport, Conn. His parents spoke only Yiddish, and scraped by selling groceries to other recent arrivals from Russia and Eastern Europe. When he began to struggle with math, his teachers advised him to drop out of school as soon as he legally could. With no one to counter the recommendation, he left at sixteen. For two years, he moved between relatives’ homes, trying out a variety of jobs. At eighteen, desperate, he enlisted in the United States Army.
To say the Army changed his life is inadequate; the Army, and service to his country, became his life. From the moment of his enlistment, my grandfather remained steadfast in his dedication to the military, and would remain so over a decades-long career that brought his family to posts all over the world, and gave him access to an America that he had been told would never admit him. While on active duty, he went to college by correspondence course, and earned his bachelor’s degree at forty. When he retired, he saved scrupulously to ensure that his daughter and his grandchildren would do the same.
My grandfather, who rewarded me and my brother with Milky Way bars for memorizing the inscription on the Lincoln Memorial, was conservative in his beliefs, and as a teenager, I often challenged them. How can you say “My country, right or wrong?” I would demand. How can you have allegiance to a nation above all things?
I understand now, too late to tell him, that my privilege to question his beliefs was the direct result of his allegiance to the United States — a country that welcomed a family that never learned to speak English, and gave their son a chance to rise so far past poverty and discrimination that his grandchildren couldn’t even imagine it. A country that didn’t view him as a threat because of his religion or his native tongue. A country that, in exchange for his service, gave him everything he’d lacked: a home, enough food, an education.
My No-Trump Vote is for him.