Thursday, December 16, 2010

More than just a Grandpa

When I was a small child we would go over my grandparents house and play.  At the time we lived in the same town, LaPorte, Indiana and my Mom's parents lived out in the country on several acres of land.  As a kid I never really noticed that the place was "run down" or unkept; all I knew was that I loved going out there because there was always kittens or puppies in one of the out-buildings and there were tons of abandoned cars and trucks out back to play in.  As an adult I realize that it was really a kind of junk-yard but as a kid you don't really notice those kinds of things.  As a kid, I thought that was pretty awesome.  All I knew about my Grandpa at that point was that he was always there in a pair of dirty work pants and a white t-shirt working on something in the big garage out back.  He was a bit rough but I loved that he would let me go get him a PBR from the fridge and sometimes, if Mom wasn't around, he'd even let me have the first sip.  He was just "Grandpa" and that's all I knew. 

When I was in 3rd grade we moved to Wisconsin and then to Iowa and on and on.  Our visits to LaPorte became far and few between and my relationship with my Grandpa, since he never came with Grandma when she drove to visit us, became non-existent.  We lost my Grandma when I was in college and my Mom and Grandpa had a falling out.  I won't go into the personal family details because it isn't important.  They reconciled a few years ago and I got the chance to see my Grandpa once or twice when I visited my Aunts in LaPorte.  By then he was a old man - still rough around the edges but what can I say, he was still just "Grandpa." 

Walter Becker - Grandpa - passed away peacefully in his sleep last week.  When I read the bio that my Aunt wrote about him I was stunned.  I had heard a little bit about his time in the military and knew that he had been a POW but I didn't really know the whole story.  I guess he was more than just a "Grandpa" after all...

Walter Becker was born in Cismar, Germany and came to America with his parents when he was about 1 years old. He grew up in Chicago and when he was about 17 he and his family moved to a farm in Hamlet, Indiana. As a young boy in Chicago he learned to play the drums and was a part of the Drum and Bugle Corps for years. He continued to enjoy playing the drums as an adult when he participated in a Senior Citizen’s Band. He often shared these memories with his grandson Steven, who is carrying on his fondness for playing the drums.

He and his late wife Maryalice were married for 47 years and raised 7 children. They were both active members of Tracy Immanuel Lutheran Church. As an involved member of the community he was a Boy Scout leader, a member of the Lion’s club, and one of his proudest memories, over 45 years of continued service to the Kingsbury Volunteer Fire Department.

As a WWII POW vet he was a lifetime member of the American Legion.

He, his sister Clara, and their brother Bill all served their country during WWII. Walter received numerous citations for "exceptionally meritorious conduct" as well as a purple heart for his services as a radio operator, maintaining communication with his commanding officer while under cross fire of 3 enemy machine guns allowing their patrol to advance aggressively across open terrain to obtain valuable information. He was wounded, captured, and sent to a German prison camp.

He was very proud of his service to his country and shared his stories with his family of his time in the war and his 18 months as a POW. He saw a sign in the prison camp asking for volunteer prisoners to go to a prison work farm and he convinced his 4 "city" buddies to go with him as he told them "it’s a farm we will be able to get food there" as they had none at the time. When he arrived at the prison farm there were 70 other prisoners there who were weak and sick as they had not been able to eat. The man who was in charge of running the farm had been sent to fight in the war and no one was left who knew how to care for the farm. Walter quickly repaired the tractors, mowed the hay so they could feed the cows, and showed them how to dig up the crops that were in the field. He survived 18 months as a POW and when the day came for them to leave the camp he was placed by the German guards at the front of the line and he led the march with his 70 fellow prisoners across Germany to LaHarve, France not knowing where they were going. When they arrived there they were given mattresses to sleep on for the first time in 2 years, a real meal, and then as he looked up from his food he stood up at attention bringing the other 70 men to their feet at the site of General Eisenhower who was there to thank them for their sacrifice for their country and to inform them that the war was over for them and that they were finally going home.

While he was committed to serving his country and his community, his life was spent providing and caring for his family as an excavator and eventually owner/operator of Becker Excavating. He will be remembered as a loving husband, father, and grandfather.
(written by Mary Becker "Aunt TT")

Rest in peace Grandpa

*Katie, my Mom, Will, and Grandpa