My basement stairs now have the “Rips Room” letters that I, Eric Rippy Riddle, inherited from my grandfather, Amos Harlen Rippy. The letters hung in the same formation from his home in Tell City, IN throughout my young life. It is an honor to walk down my stairs and remember the familiar walk down my grandparents basement steps.
My grandfather was a quiet man. Growing up, the things that I most identified with my grandfather were:
His stable presence in all of my big life’s moments
He worked most of his life at the Tell City Chair Company
He owned a golf cart at his local course and played all the time
He absolutely loved St. Louis Cardinals baseball
He was responsible for hanging the witty sayings and announcements with the black plastic letters on the church sign
He stopped smoking in the early 1980s when I asked him why he smoked (I have little recollection of this, but it was often stated at family gatherings)
He was in the Air Force in World War 2
The family called him “Pop”. His friend’s called him “Rip.”
In 2013, Pop was my last grandparent to die. I was close to all 4 of my grandparents, but Pop’s quiet nature was overshadowed by my grandmother who showered love, attention, and lots of cookies on me. His quiet presence was one of solidarity, but not as much what I would call intimacy. It felt like there was something that I didn’t know about him and wasn’ sure how to find out.
The funny thing is that I did not cry at the funerals of my other grandparents. I also did not speak at those funerals. I did both the day Pop was buried.
His funeral is easily the most memorable for me. I remember standing on the cemetery hillside, listening to the playing of Taps and getting an overwhelming feeling of what I can only describe as being opened. I was compelled to begin writing poetry that I described as “openings”. I wrote this after Pop’s funeral:
Today, Pop was buried
Next to my mother’s mother
Sunny, windy on top of Tell City
My son watched the old man fold the flag
Red, White, Blue described
I stood in the tent, feeling an opening
A generation is gone
My mom, dad, aunt, and uncle said their goodbye
At the church, I took the Kleenex
And mumbled through 8 tissues
I said death is a myth
and my grandfather is alive
Pop lived 68 years after he flew over Tokyo in 1945. It took me until 2022 to realize that my grandfather was part of Operation Meetinghouse. The air raids over Tokyo on March 9th and 10th in 1945 are considered the deadliest air raid in human history. With a firestorm that killed nearly 100,000 people, the napalm burned a quarter of Tokyo to the ground. While the atomic bombs get the attention, it was the Operation Meetinghouse air raid that my grandfather participated in that took the most human life.
His generation fought the most lethal war in human history. Pop embodied the conflict that horrifies and amazes all who study that time in human history. I can not imagine the psychological anguish – whether felt or stuffed into his unconscious that he must have experienced. I wish I could have known more and spoken to him about that time in his life.
I wept the day I pieced together the dates of Operation Meetinghouse with what my brother had discovered in Pop’s journals. While it did not feel like a family secret, this realization was an unearthing of family history that has been life altering to me. It feels like a lost treasure with a key that could only truly be opened by talking to Pop. I think part of my emotional reaction is not being able to talk to him about the experience. I am not sure how this has shaped me or how this knowledge will play a role in my life. It is real and painful and unforgettable. When he died, and I felt opened, maybe it was a way of passing on a desire for my generation to be reconcilers in a world prone to war.
This deeper understanding of Pop’s Air Force service has drawn me closer to him since his passing. When I think of Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation,” I remember my grandfather. I’m thankful that I have lived in relative peace, compared to the world he inherited when he was in his early 20’s and Pearl Harbor put his generation instantly on the path to the deadliest war in human history. Whether soldiers died, like some of his friends, or soldiers survived by dropping bombs on the enemy, I count both as sacrifices. I understand his quiet demeanor more.
Following the war, he thankfully was able to serve the rest of his life in the peaceful town of Tell City, IN. The stability he provided to our family after his service in World War 2 laid a foundation of success for my mother that has since passed down to my generation and my children.
Before Pop passed, his first grandson was born – Isaac Rippy Riddle. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to honor my grandfather by passing on his family name. May Isaac, like his great grandfather, grow to humbly serve, seeking reconciliation in a complicated world.
Grieving great fire of World War
Nineteen forty five