Eugene Valcourt, Father, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather. 89 Years old...

I was asked by my aunts and uncles to deliver the Eulogy at my Grandfather's Funeral.  4 days later, here is what I came up with...

Eugene Valcourt, Father, Grandfather, Great-grandfather. 89 Years old. Born September 15th, 1919, Passed Away April 20th, 2009. Of the 6.7 Billion inhabitants on the planet, most would hear that statement and say "I'm sure he lived a good life". But for the people here today, both physically and spiritually, I say "He lived a extraordinary life".

For the short time I have been on this earth, I've had my share of role models, {C}

and those whom I've wanted to be like some day. Sure, at points they have included the Ninja Turtles, or maybe even Bugs Bunny. Unfortunately, you can't keep cartoon characters as role models for your whole life, and as you mature you pick up a new set of role models who help define your development into a young adult. For me, this group has included teachers from High School & College, business & community leaders, mentors from the Scouting program, and most importantly, elders within my family. Specifically, one of these people is my grandfather.

Today I want to tell you three lessons I have learned from my Grandfather. That's it, just three simple lessons.

The first lesson is about the unique story every person writes over their lifetime. You see, I'm the youngest grandchild on both sides of my family. I've always known my grandfather as being retired. I never really knew him as a carpenter, or a plumber, or as a member of the Army. I simply knew him as "Pepere". We would share cookies and milk, or watch the Red Sox play, or go on walks around Forge Village. You know, typical young kid stuff. It wasn't until more recently that I started to investigate who my Pepere really was. As I became that curious teenager I was, I searched for answers to some simple questions, to try and paint a picture in my mind of who my grandfather was before I came into this world. Questions like: What brought my Grandfather to America? How did he meet Memere? What did he do during World War II?

It's that last question which had me stumped for a long time. Everyone I asked gave relatively short answers. "He was at Iwo Jima." "He worked as a Mechanic." "He became a US Citizen while serving our Country." For me, these answers were a good start, but didn't help me finish painting that part of the picture. I wanted to understand more.

In the summer of 2005, I embarked on a trip with the Boy Scouts to bike 150 miles of the C&O Canal Tow Path along the Potomac River. On the final days of the trip, our group had the opportunity to visit some of our nation's greatest monuments and museums along the Washington Mall. I had been to our Nations Capital multiple times previously, but this time something new had been constructed since my last visit. Just the summer previous to my visit, the National World War Two memorial had been unveiled. When I visited the memorial, one feature which stood out to me; the Freedom Wall. This wall contains 4,048 gold stars, each of which represents 100 American lives lost during the war. You learn facts like that in grade school, but a number is a number. It doesn't stick. Seeing a wall 85 feet wide, and 9 feet high put that number in reality for me.

Upon returning home, I visited Pepere to tell him about my trip and find out what he did during the war first hand. I brought with me a souvenir book with pictures of the memorial. When I told him I visited the memorial and asked him what the war was like, he couldn't get more than a sentence out before his eyes welled up and he began to cry. I had never seen this before. My grandfather was the strong pillar of support for our family, and he suddenly wasn't able to talk. It was at that point that I realized his generation sacrificed something for all of us here today.

Pepere was a member of what is referred to as "The Greatest Generation". Those men and women who came of age during the Great Depression, who then answered the call to serve our nation at the world's darkest hour. Fighting the greatest military machines ever assembled on a war fought on 6 of the 7 continents, and all the seas, and all the skies. When it was over 72 Million had perished, but the world was saved from Japanese Imperialism, and German Fascism, and the men and women of this generation returned home quietly and built the country we have today. On that day when I saw my grandfather express emotion for the first time, I realized that you can't keep putting off learning of the stories others have to tell. For only a few years later, those stories; memories of how my grandfather lived his life; were gone. We are only here for a limited time; find out everything you can about the lives of those you care about.

The second story today is about passing on knowledge & skills and being resourceful. Being born in the mid 1980s, I'm categorized as being part of the Millennial Generation. In just this short amount of time, the world has become a fast paced, technology driven place. So fast in fact that with most tangible things, before it can wear out, the technology is outdated, and you upgrade. Even if something breaks, it is just a reason to upgrade. Some may argue that this has progressed our society further and faster than anyone could predict, while others have said it is partially at the root of the cause for our "want" driven society.

My grandfather on the other hand, as a member of the greatest generation, taught me at an early age to be resourceful with everything. Only buying something new if you had to, and repairing things as they broke or wore out. He spent hours sharing these skills with others, and took pride in those accomplishments when the job was done. From the time I was able to walk, I remember helping him plant, tend to, and grow his massive vegetable garden in the back yard. When it was time for me to do a family project for a merit badge in Boy Scouts, he offered to teach me how to restore and cain a chair. We spent days working on that chair; and even though I may have screwed up the first few times on one part of the project, he took the time to correct me to make sure I got it right. My earliest memories of Pepere spending the time to pass on a skill was when he taught me to fish. We would spend hours down at Forge Beach, or over behind the Town Forrest trying to "catch the biggest fish ever". Of course all we ever caught were tiny sunfish, but I'll always cherish those times we spent together with him teaching me how to hook the worm just right to trick the fish, even though it freaked me out just a bit at my young age. Most importantly, Pepere enjoyed learning from his grandkids as well. We taught him how that line on the football field gets there, or how to build a model rocket and launch it.

To all the other grandchildren and great grandchildren here today, learn from your elders. Don't brush them off as not understanding or not knowing. Turn off your BlackBerries and your iPhones, unplug from the GPS, log off from Google, and take out the white earbuds of your iPod. Their generation is a resource of knowledge, and more often than none, they are willing to spend the time to pass that knowledge on. You just need to ask and listen. To all the aunts & uncles, parents, and distant relatives, learn from us as well. My generation has grown up with this fast paced change in technology, so it is second nature for us.

The final lesson is about leaving a legacy. Too often in today's culture, we focus on the celebrities or the people on the news every night. What some forget to realize is that each of us leaves a legacy, whether we realize it or not.

One thing my grandfather taught me indirectly was to worry about others before you. If you take care of others, you will eventually be taken care of. Kind of a "Pay it Forward" type of idea. This wasn't more apparent than last night at Pepere's Wake. Many people showed up last night to give their final respects to my grandfather. Many of which I recognized from my time working at our family store in Forge Village. Out of everyone who came to show their respects, two individuals, whom are unrelated to this family and known probably by only myself and my father, drove from Gardner to help my family through this time of remembrance. When I text messaged them later to thank them for driving all the way out to Westford, I got a simple response; "What are Friends for?". Just another example of taking care of others before yourself, and I know my grandfather would be proud to see this idea live on.  

I was once told you can never connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back. Pepere never worried about the results of what might lie ahead in the future. He just concerned himself with the now, but more importantly, he concerned himself with others. Making sure a sick person was taken care of, giving a ride to someone who needed it, or helping someone with a leg up in life. He even rose to the occasion and joined the US Army two full years prior to becoming a United States Citizen. He put serving a country, which he couldn't even vote in elections for, before himself.

As humans, we are only here for a short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. The influence of one man's actions can have a far greater reach of influence than you can imagine at that very moment. Prior to his passing, my view of my grandfather's legacy was pretty small. He had a large family which has grown even larger over the last few years, and his sphere of influence wasn't much outside of the Village area. It wasn't until I started hearing stories shared amongst my uncles and aunts in these last few days that I began to see a much larger legacy left behind. The good deeds, the successful children and grandchildren, and countless people who he had touched in some way, make up his legacy, and it is much larger than I could ever imagine. 

Many believe that at a time like this, only an ending of something good is visible. What most do not realize is that this is more about a new beginning than anything. Just as Summer fades into Fall, dies into the harsh Winter, emerges again in the Spring, and is re-born into a new summer. Our sun and moon also fall into a similar cycle of renewal. Even within this family, we see the next generation in their infancy ready to tackle the next set of challenges this world brings them. Eugene will never be forgotten. His legacy will live on forever, glowing brighter in our hearts and consciences.

In the coming decades, I hope to live as prosperous of a life as my grandfather has. Sharing my stories & wisdom, and leaving a legacy to future generations which aren't even more than a thought at this very moment. I know that some day, I too will be at the end of this cycle with a newer generation in my shoes. Looking back at all the stories I have been part of, the knowledge I have possessed and passed on, and of the legacy which I have left behind as I move on towards the great eternal unknown. And when the time comes, I will look forward to sharing these stories and memories with my grandfather and those who have come before me.

 

Comments

Andy,

Very well said. Gene is my Uncle. Not sure you remember meeting me on our annual treks to New England. I had a similar experience one of the last times I talked to him. I asked him about WWII and he began to tell me a little bit. He told me he was on Iwo Jima -- "It was terrible" he said. Then he began a story about flying home. There was an explosion on the plane -- perhaps an engine -- then he began to cry. When I was leaving he apologized to me for crying. I told him that he never had to apologize to me for anything. He was a good man and I miss him.

Vince Bennett

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