A Mariner Worth His Weight in Courage

George Walter Patrick Watson was a Philadelphia bricklayer with deep roots from parents’ homeland of Ireland. What most people never knew, however was how heroic he was, because he never mentioned it. And that was how my humble grandfather was. An afficionado of Bock beer and Copenhagen chew, he was also a fan of simplicity. He spent his later years in life making his famous “Georgie Bread,” with the simplest ingredients, because in his starts, there simply weren’t many ingredients available. He also, ridiculous as this sounds, wove his grandchildren potholders that to this day in my opinion are the most effective I’ve ever used.

Back to his unwritten history.

I have handwritten, shaky looking notes he wrote to me when I was a very young but curious girl, asking about our heritage. I happened to come across those notes a few days ago. Stories, witticism, family history I never knew.

And oh, what stories he shared like a stereotypically brilliant Irishman lacking patience. He occasionally played piano(by ear) in “the days” when you actually sang around a piano. I do think that my own children are missing out on that.

Family recollections of Georgie’s escapades during WW2 went something like this.

Gray battleships, Polynesian women and unfortunate very young men held captive. But he wasn’t a gunner in what can still be romanticized in movies. He instead was on vessels transporting torpedoes, troops and supplies. In extremely dangerous waters, mind you.

My mother fondly explains that he started as a member of the Merchant Marine who ended up a Naval officer, commissioned thus after volunteering. Because, as young men, that’s what you simply did with patriotism in the 1940s during the upheaval.

And then, he wound up in the South Pacific through the war. He was part of the flotilla gathered in Tokyo Bay when the official surrender of the Japanese took place on the USS Missouri in September, 1945. Somewhere there must be photos.

My mother has lots of stories to tell about the guy who gave me lessons on things such as how to spit into a spittoon if necessary. (There was one incident where a cousin got hit in the face with his used tobacco in the backseat of his famous Ford Maverick.)

As his granddaughter, I was likely spared the details of the atrocities undoubtably Georgie witnessed during WW2, just as my brothers, sister and cousins were.

My dearest grandmother and Georgie’s wife nicknamed “Mimi” also seemed to hold a dignity so remarkable of the generation that endured the unimaginable. With grace, she moved my mother, uncle and aunt around as dictated in order to keep them safe.

Maybe the story has been embellished somewhat, but my mother recalls throwing up on a sailor on a train headed south when she was five years of age. Mimi was visiting George in Florida while he was waiting for his ship to sail. The train was filled with young men in uniform. Which now I realize meant they were on the train to be deployed somewhere from a port. I’m sure they included fathers, sons and boyfriends who may or may not have come back from that train excursion and worse.

There are plenty of other stories as well. Probably most will never be told because they simply aren’t around to be told now. But listening to those stories is worth pausing for a bit and truly honoring our veterans.

I learned the name of Georgie’s ship, and listened in awe to compelling details I never knew or simply did not pay attention enough. Things like that from two generations ago simply weren’t discussed because it inflicts pain.

The fact that my grandfather commanded a ship while my grandmother commanded a home in dangerous times is no more remarkable by comparison to other stories worthy of being heard. But what their story should teach is that sacrifices have come before us. And you can’t put a price or value on that especially during this holiday season of reflection.

So to my beloved, patriotic grandparents: thank you. Very good people indeed.

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