About six years ago I wrote the bulk of this piece for an article in the summer issue of the Valley of Danville Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite’s newsletter. Our reunion that fall was to be named in honor of the “Greatest Generation”, that generation that had won World War II and helped bring greater prosperity to our country and the developed world. We felt at the time that it was appropriate to honor that generation before any more of them left us. The reunion itself would fall a few days before Veterans’ Day and I offered the article as my reflection on my personal connection to a member of that generation and the part it played in my becoming a Mason.
As I thought about how we might honor the Greatest Generation and what meaning might be had for the surviving members of that generation, as well as the generations that succeeded them, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you the story of one of my links to the Greatest Generation--my grandfather. I think a lot of you might have a similar story about your father or grandfather. My grandfather was born July 14, 1908. He was born into a large relatively poor family, as was common at the time. He left home in his late teens to make his own way as a laborer. He was in his early twenties when the Depression hit. As a laborer and small farmer, hard times got even harder. In those hard times, my grandmother and he would raise four daughters and one son- my father Carl L. Pettice, who was born July 8, 1942, just months after the United States entered World War II.
In 1943 at the age of 35 with five children at home, my grandfather was drafted into the Navy. He served in the Pacific theater aboard LST’s that delivered Marines and their fighting materiel to the beach heads during the island hopping campaign that would help turn the tide in the war with Japan. He was at Iwo Jima when five Marines and a Navy corpsman placed Old Glory atop Mount Suribachi. After the war he returned home to his family and continued his life as a laborer and father of his family. I wish I could tell you that I remember hearing this story from my grandfather, but I can’t. My grandfather died when I was two years old on July 7, 1970 a few days before his sixty-second birthday. This story was related to me by my father. I think my father was proud of his Dad’s service to his country. I think he was because when he reached the age he could do so, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Navy. From different conversations I had with my father over the years, I know that the relationship he had with his father was complex, as are most relationships between fathers and sons. I know my grandfather had a hard life and most of his time was taken trying to earn a living for himself and his family. For these and other reasons, a distance developed between my father and his father. I know my grandfather loved his family because he made so many sacrifices for them, but I don’t think my father perceived that love growing up. My father joined the Navy at age seventeen. His father passed away the day before his twenty-eighth birthday and my father had been away for most of the preceding eleven years. My father never really got the opportunity to build a relationship with his father as a man.
One thing I remember my father saying about his father, though, was that he told him on several occasions, “If you ever get the chance to join the Masons, you should take it.” My grandfather was not a Mason, but apparently held them in high esteem. My father eventually did become a Mason and that is a story for another time, but the fact that he did is relevant to this story. You see like my father and his father, my father and I too had a complex relationship. My father was away much of the time I was growing up with his Navy duties and later as a truck driver after he retired from the Navy. When he was around I did not always perceive his love for me. Like his father though, he encouraged me to join the Masons. I did join a few weeks before my twenty-eighth birthday. I continued to attend lodge with my father and we both became active in the Scottish Rite. It was through these shared experiences in Masonry that we began to respect each other and enjoy each other’s company. It was through these experiences that my father and I built what he and his father did not get the opportunity to build, a relationship as men and brothers. My father died February 9, 2004. I will be forever thankful for the relationship we built. I will be forever thankful for my Grandfather’s suggestion. I am thankful I got to know and love my father on the level. I know I am a better man for it and I owe it, at least indirectly, to one member of the Greatest Generation.
Brian L. Pettice, 33° is a Past Master of Anchor Lodge No. 980 and plural member of Olive Branch Lodge No. 38 in Danville, IL and an Honorary Member of a couple of others. He is also an active member of both the York and Scottish Rites. He cherishes the Brothers that have become Friends over the years and is thankful for the opportunities Freemasonry gives and has given him to examine and improve himself, to meet people he might not otherwise have had chance to meet, and to do things he might not otherwise have had chance to do. He is employed as an electrician at the University of Illinois and lives near Alvin, IL with his wife Janet and their son Aidan. He looks forward to sharing the joy the fraternity brings him with others. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.