This is my teenage grandfather on his way to the first world war. Does he look scared? Standing ramrod straight and expressionless in stark contrast with the bucolic backdrop. Perhaps the photographer told him not to smile — war is serious business, after all. I look at him and it’s hard to imagine what he was thinking, this son of English and Irish immigrants, born and raised on Staten Island, NY, about to go off and fight German soldiers in France. I wonder what it was like for him over there?
Roderick James Stanfield was luckier than many who went off to fight in that war. He came home physically unscathed. I knew him as a kind, soft-spoken man who entertained us by pulling coins out of our ears. He must have had stories to tell, but I never got a chance to ask — he died when I was younger than he was when he went to war. Instead, I made do with reading poetry written by so many impossibly young and talented boys, many of whom did not return home to the people who loved them best. I read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth and cried. The scope of all those young lives lost was hard to comprehend. The suffering of all the survivors, almost unfathomable.
The sixteen year-old me weeping over the carnage of World War I still naively believes that the best way to honor the dead is to love and respect the living.
The present me, shell-shocked by the last two years of rampant xenophobia and nationalism is hanging on to hope. For the sake of young Roderick James Stanfield and so many, many more.