In October, my grandfather (Gramps, as we call him) celebrated his 100th birthday.
James McLaughlin, Jr. entered the world on Oct. 12, 1920, near Pittsburgh, Penn. He was born at the end of the last deadly global pandemic (the “Spanish flu”), fought in three wars and raised seven children. Through it all, he lived the American Dream.
His long life has spanned an impressive series of historical events.
He was alive when Warren Harding was the president, as well as 16 more to follow. And a new president is on the way.
He saw the Roaring ’20s through the eyes of a child and watched his parents struggle to care for their family during the Great Depression.
He joined the Marines in 1939, just as World War II was beginning to boil over in Europe. He had the expectation he would fight there, but in 1942 those plans changed when he was sent to fight in the Pacific. He remained in the Pacific through the end of the war, then returned. He remained an active Marine until the late ’60s, serving in Korea and Vietnam as well as moving around the U.S. at many bases.
Upon retiring from the Marines, he went to work for an aerospace contractor in Southern California before finally retiring for good and enjoying the rewards of his long careers.
Gramps began traveling around the country in a fifth-wheel trailer, visiting family and friends. He saw the United States Bicentennial in 1976 as well as several state fairs.
He witnessed the Great Recession, though he would say it wasn’t as bad as the Depression for him. He always knew where his next meal was coming from and the VA makes sure he has health care. Not everyone he grew up with or joined the Marines with was lucky enough to survive to enjoy such benefits.
Technological advances brought him his cell phone (a flip phone that he still has), but also FaceTime. As a matter of fact, FaceTime is how he celebrated his 100th birthday, allowing him to see those whose lives he has touched over his century on Earth.
I recently became aware of Samantha Sebuck, a Local 99 member at Fry’s whose grandmother, Tess, also celebrated her 100th. She lived through many of the same events as my grandfather did, just differently.
It’s amazing all the history we have available to us through our grandparents. Whether they are in their 40s, their 50s or their 100s, we owe it to them to learn their stories. Because if we don’t learn from history, sometimes we are doomed to repeat it.
Happy Birthday, Jim and Tess. Thank you for sharing your stories.