My grandfather, Walter Franklin Inscoe Jr. (PawPaw to me), died on July 4 of this year. He’ll be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery this week, just a few days after Veterans Day.
I couldn’t think of two better days to celebrate the life of PawPaw, who retired as a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force after serving in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and was the most patriotic man I’ve ever known.
He lived an incredible life. I could fill a book with all of the adventures he had in his 91 years. I went on a road trip across the country with him and my sister when I was in college. (You can read about those adventures here.) He bowled (well) and played cornhole (really well) right through his 90th birthday. It seemed like nothing could stop PawPaw, right up until a brain tumor did.
I think about him all the time, and I miss him terribly.
I was honored to speak at his memorial service in Wilson, North Carolina. Below is a draft of the eulogy I delivered. I did my best to capture how much he meant to his family and friends. I hope I did him proud.
PawPaw, my grandfather, lived 91 years full of joy, love and adventure. When I was trying to figure out what to say about him today, I thought about what stories I’d tell my daughter, his great granddaughter, Eleanor, when she gets older.
I’ll tell her how he lied about his age to join the Navy at 15 years old, and served his country for 30 years, during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. I’ll tell her about the Bronze Star and numerous other awards be won.
I’ll also tell her how he won his first car, a 1937 Chevy, in a game of blackjack. He always had a thing for cars. Later in life, he had a habit of taking his beloved Cadillac in for an oil change or some minor repair and coming back with a brand new Cadillac. I long ago lost count of how many Cadillacs he owned.
I’ll tell her that he only made it through seventh grade but he was one of the smartest men I ever met. Pick a subject and he could talk intelligently about it. Sports, politics, history – you name it. You had to be careful, though, because he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He didn’t mince words. If he didn’t like something, he told you. But it was always out of love.
And when he set his mind on something, he was determined to do it. I was going to visit him while he was in the hospital in Chapel Hill and my dad called and told me to meet him in the waiting room, not PawPaw’s room. I walked in and there was PawPaw, in his gown, sitting in the waiting room eating breakfast.
He was tired of being in his room, so he got up, grabbed his little IV cart and walked out, didn’t care what anyone had to say about it. The doctors and nurses had to come to him.
I’ll tell her about how when I was little I loved NASCAR so PawPaw painted a race car track on a big piece of plywood so I could race my little die cast cars around it, one by one.
I’ll tell her about the road trip my sister, Madison, and I took with PawPaw in 2008, the summer after MawMaw died. We spent a month driving across the country, down to Texas, all the way up California, and through Montana and South Dakota. We took a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, saw Mount Rushmore and walked all over Chicago and Seattle. But we also saw the places he used to live, met old friends and learned about his life. It was such a special trip, and I’ll treasure those memories forever.
Oh, and he won $100 at a casino in Las Vegas, so clearly those blackjack skills never went away.
I’ll tell her how he was still bowling and working out at the Y and playing cornhole just about every day at 90 years old. And he was good at cornhole, too. He’d beat me bad every time we played, and he let me know it.
More than anything, though, I’ll tell her how much he cared about his friends and his family, and how much they cared about him. Soon after he got sick, he told me he was surprised by how many people were calling him, checking up on him and bringing him food. But I wasn’t. He has touched so many lives. As one of his friends told me just last night, he’s one in a million.
I feel lucky that he was my grandfather. And I think everyone who met him feels lucky to be a part of his life in some way.
I’m so, so glad he got to meet his great granddaughter, and I can’t wait to tell her all of these stories about him.
One last thing: About four years ago, I gave PawPaw a little book for Christmas. It basically asks a lot of questions about his life, and he answered them and gave it back to me. One of the questions asked about his favorite holiday. He wrote, “July 4 was always special to me.” Well now it’s even more special, because it’s the day he got to go up to heaven and meet our Lord.