It was August 1992 when I wrote a column that has stuck with me ever since. It must have stuck with some of my readers, because every now and then someone will send me a photocopy of the column with a nice remark. This is an entirely new column, but the key part of the story has not changed one iota.
My grandfather was the sole subject. Well, not exactly the sole subject. Through him, I made a larger point. Or should I say he made a larger point — one that is reverberating as Kansans face their moment of truth.
Grandpa was born in Omaha, Neb., in 1900, making him 92 when I wrote the column.
One day that August, I went to pick him up at his home in Leawood. He lived alone, after my grandmother had passed away just a couple of years earlier. They had been married 72 years.
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Grandpa was a man with deep passion for his country. He was too young to fight in World War I but too old to fight in World War II.
In World War I, to make up for his ineligibility to fight, he joined the Missouri National Guard, where he became a drill sergeant. There, he got the nickname “Sarge,” which he was called throughout his life, particularly by his workers at the scrap-metal yard he owned.
That little scrap-metal yard, located in Kansas City, where his family had moved soon after he was born, had become over the years a thriving business, an offshoot from his days as a peddler of junk as a young man. It is still a thriving fourth-generation business.
During World War II, that was the business to be in. Scrap metal was in such demand by weapons manufacturers that prices of those commodities soared. Scrap-metal dealers throughout the country became millionaires almost overnight.
But not Grandpa. He did not believe it was patriotic to make money off the war. So he just locked the gate and closed his scrap yard. He unfortunately had to let his employees go. But he had a new job to do. Grandpa volunteered to work for the “war board,” as he called it. He was referring to the War Production Board, which supervised war production for the government.
Restrictions by the government eventually were placed on scrap owners to prevent them from profiting off the war. Grandpa’s job was to monitor pricing in scrap-metal yards all over the country and to report any price gouging to the board. That’s how he fought in World War II.
He was still a man of deep patriotism. But by August 1992, Sarge, who always walked with his shoulders back and head up, was feeble.
He had a cane but refused to have a walker. As long as someone was walking beside him, he was able to move, albeit very, very slowly.
This day, we had set a time that I would pick him up at his home. We drove from his home to a nearby church. That was his destination.
We parked in the lot, but from that point there was a flight of stairs to get to the open door. To Grandpa, it looked like a long flight. And even to me, it looked steep.
He held my arm as we walked toward the steps, moving inches at a time. When he got to the stairs, he said, “I hope I can make it.”
We climbed that flight of stairs, one step at a time. Once we got to the top of the stairs of the church, we walked together into a room.
People who were sitting at tables looked up. I swear the 92-year-old-man pulled back his shoulders as much as he could and held his head high.
“I’m Harry Mallin,” he bellowed. “And I am here to vote.”
If he could do it then, you can do it now, in this moment of truth for Kansas.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org