This morning I’m sitting here in bed as I do virtually every morning: Working on one of many programming projects. Sometimes they’re “official” projects and sometimes just experiments. The big difference today is that I’m in San Jose, CA for Open Web Camp. About 45 minutes ago I spoke briefly with my wife. As I put my phone down I noticed a missed call and voicemail from a number I didn’t recognize.

Usually when I get calls like that, they’re from people who want a VPAT written urgently. They had arrived on this site after Googling for “VPAT”, arrived on this post and then called me to tell me they need a VPAT written urgently. I send them over to Brian Landrigan over at The Paciello Group and that’s that. But this call was different:

“I’m not sure if this is the right number to call or not. Based on your voicemail greeting, you sound like you might be younger than the person I’m looking for, but I’m looking for a relative of Fred T. Groves…”

I hung up on the voicemail and called the number right back.

Fred Groves was my uncle. He was a US Marine who died on Iwo Jima in World War II. He was just a boy when he died. My grandfather had signed a special permission form for Fred to join the Marines at 17 and Fred was barely 18 when he died on Iwo Jima. In other words, he shouldn’t have even been at Iwo Jima if he had waited until he was 18. It tore my grandfather apart. Naturally I never got to meet Fred. In fact, my own father was only 4 years old when Fred died.

I spent a few moments on the phone with the guy who had called me. He must’ve been around my age and was calling on behalf of his father-in-law and proceeded to tell me about the stories his father-in-law had about Fred and how he tried to “look after” Fred because he was so young. He was there – literally there – at Fred’s last moments on this planet. To this day, nearly 70 years after Iwo Jima, this guy’s Father-in-law still talks about Fred.

It makes me both proud and sad to have had a relative that touched others so deeply and yet to have been lost so early.