Stanley was an unlikely war hero. He died quietly in his late 60’s in his favorite armchair in his parent’s living room. There was no one there to notice as he hemorrhaged from a treatable kidney condition. His housemate was away and he didn’t know how or didn’t have the strength to call for help. Everyone assumed that Stanley was autistic. He kept the house in West LA exactly as his father had left it when he died, sparse and cleared of all traces of his mother’s knickknacks. He slept in the room he had lived in since his family had relocated to California in the 1930’s to follow the Hollywood dream. Some remembered that he used to play piano at the local clubs, ragtime and show tunes. Most just knew him, if they knew him at all, as the lumbering, unwashed uncommunicative man who occasionally emerged from the small stucco house with the unkempt yard on West Moreland Avenue.
In high school, Stanley was a straight A student. He was the youngest and the best and brightest of the three cousins. He could sing and dance and act. When talent scouts from MGM signed him in 193_ he was a pixie of a twelve year old boy with a dazzling smile and ready to out tap Shirley Temple across the silver screen. Over that summer two things happened in my family. First, everyone who could moved from North Carolina to California. That included Aunt Murray and Uncle Henry, Stanley’s parents, and my Grandmother with my mom and Uncle Herman. Second, Stanley grew. His contract called for an imp, not a gangly teenager and that was the end of that.
Stanley continued to be a star student and to belong to a variety of young acting troupes. He was popular, good looking and after graduating high school with honors, he did what most of the young men of his generation did, he joined the army.
On June 6, 1944, Stanley, as a member of the US Army Signal Corp, watched as wave after wave of Allied soldiers lost their lives on the beach at Normandy. Exactly what part of his job it was to signal young men to continue to trudge into enemy fire and sacrifice their lives on the beach no one will ever know. Stanley never talked about it. He never really talked about much ever again. He played music for a while. Then, the Steinway in the dining room also fell silent and out of tune.
Henry cared for his only son until his death. Then my father, his cousin by marriage, made arrangements for him to stay in his father’s house and visited him about once a month driving down the coast from San Luis Obispo. I’d always loved the way he played ragtime piano when I was small, listening for hours as the others left the room for the kitchen or porch to carry on their comfortable conversations. I went to visit now and then once I had my license.
Now we have a name for it, PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Then it was just Stanley, the way he was, something no one talked about. On this Memorial Day, I salute you and your heart that couldn’t bear this atrocity humanity calls war. Stanley and all the other heroes who have paid such a terrible price in mind, memory and heart. May they and we all find peace.