As I stared out at the sandstone mountains of southern Utah, the Ranger tried to explain how this land looked over eight million years ago and how in that time, the land we stood and gawked at with its towering red rock spires and grey rock canyons was transformed from a vast plain to a deep canvas of undulating colors and textures. She told how the Colorado Plateau shifted, raising one area and forcing another to drop hundreds of feet. She explained how the Virgin River slowly carved caverns into the mountains as the deposits of silt and sand compounded again and again to create raised ledges and heart plunging cliffs.
My eyes squinted to imagine such a transformation, but I was unsuccessful. Other listeners seemed to have the same problem. The shift from what the landscape once was to what it is now felt incomprehensible. Our Ranger Rebecca smiled under her broad rimmed hat as she pushed a curl of her red hair back underneath. “Most people can not grasp the idea the span of life these mountains have witnessed. You have to dispel the idea that you understand time. On the continuum of this place, or the earth’s evolution, we are but a speck in that space.”
Imagining millions of years ago is almost more than I can wrap my mind around which is no wonder since I have difficulty wrapping my mind around generations just two removed from mine. That would be my grandfather’s generation, the “Greatest Generation,” as some profess. The year was 1943 and our country was at war. The war to end all wars, I believe is how they referred to it. My grandfather, Herbert Jennings Mease, was known to family and friends as “Bud.” He was a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps. As a pilot, he headed to India to be a part of the supply missions that flew from Chabua, India to Yangkai, China. It was known as flying over The Hump and their cargo was anything from food and ammunition to mules.
The planes were not built for these big cargo holds nor were they built for flying in high altitudes over the Himalayas in temperatures that froze soldiers and kept navigational equipment from working properly. The path over the Himalayas became known as the Aluminum Trial not because of materials unloaded from the planes, but because of trail of planes that went down. More than 150 planes were lost at the Hump. My grandfather’s plane, a C-87, was one of those that went down on April 24, 1943. He and his crew of four were listed as Missing in Action and remained on that list for more than seventy years.
Last year as I wrote a memoir about my family and I researched this grandfather for I never met him, nor did my mother—the daughter of Bud Mease. Bud and my grandmother divorced the year my mother was born in 1931. Pictures of the baby were sent and birthday telegrams were received, but I always assumed Bud died before my mother got a chance to meet her father. I always assumed Bud left and went straight into the armed services and was then lost in the war. But between my mother’s birth and my grandfather’s death another life was led. My Grandfather Bud married a second time and with his wife, Ellen, they created a family to include Bud, Jr.
My mother never knew of Bud, Jr. nor he of my mother. In 2013, I made the connection of them both. That was the year I discovered not only Bud, Jr., but also that my grandfather who had been declared MIA since that April day in 1943 had been found by a trekker in the mountains of the Himalayas. After years of military processing and DNA testing, my grandfather’s remains were returned to Bud, Jr., in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Bud has retired after a career in the Armed Services. He and his family held a memorial service in which the US Army provided full regalia including a 21 gun salute, presentation of the flag and a heart rendering playing of taps.
In discovering this story, I discovered family. I discovered my mother’s half brother and thus my half uncle who comes with a lovely wife of fifty years, five children, and many grandchildren. In traveling across the country, I stopped in Salt Lake City to meet my half uncle and his wife and a few of their grandchildren and one of their daughters. I took the opportunity to listen to their stories and learn about their lives and I was given the opportunity to visit the grave of my grandfather. Up on the hill overlooking the valley of Salt Lake City, there is a grave marker honoring my grandfather.
The carved stone satisfies a completion of a circle that brings my grandfather back to me and introduces me to family. The time it took for these lives to evolve and change—to live and to die—causes me to strain in accepting the passage of years. How could all of this happen? How could my grandfather be the reason for my mother, the reason for Bud Jr, the reason for another soldier missing in action, and a miracle of being found decades later? While seemingly dramatic the evolution happened a little at a time.
We may but specks in this evolution, but I know each speck tells a story—each life accounts and contributes. The life of my grandfather not only gave me the greatest gift of my mother, but has now given me another connection, another place to note on the path.