As we sat around the pool waiting for my dad to finish mowing the lawn so we could start dinner, my grandpa started talking about the obstacle courses.
Throughout New York state, the courses were put up in high schools as a way to test the skills of young men entering the armed forces. It was 1942, and the war effort was in full swing. So when a course was installed at his school in Yonkers, he tried it out.
"And I did that course in 22 seconds," Pop-pop said. "When I was done, they looked at the stopwatch and told me, 'No one's ever going to beat that time, Carson.' And no one ever did."
"So were the services all just jumping to have you?" I asked. "Did they all line up - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines - and you got to take your pick?"
And he told me the story of how he was drafted. "I had a basketball game that night," he said. But the letter said to report to Grand Central Station, so he went to the city and took his physical.
"Then they read off all the names and where you were headed - this one to the Army, this one to the Marines," he said. "But no one called my name." So he left with a group headed over to the Y, and as they were discussing the draft, he asked if anyone thought it was strange that his name hadn't been called. "You'd better go back over there and check," they told him.
When he arrived back at Grand Central Station, he asked the draft officials to check the rolls for his name. No Carson in the Army, no Carson in the Navy, no Carson in the Marines. So they checked the 4-F list, and there he was. "What's wrong with me?" he demanded. "Says here you have a punctured eardrum," they said.
So my grandpa left Grand Central Station with the knowledge that he was sitting World War II out. He even made it back to Yonkers for the last half of his basketball game. "And we won!" he said.
That summer, a few of his friends decided to enlist in the Navy and asked my grandpa if he wanted to go with them. "I said sure, why not?" he said, and nearly 70 years later, I could still hear the smirk in his voice. "I knew I was going to be 4-F."
And that's when Pop-pop learned that the draft board had made a mistake when they said he had a punctured eardrum. In a matter of weeks, he was reporting to a naval base in Maryland.
My grandpa sure had a funny way of joining the Navy, but he served proudly once he was there. Happy Memorial Day to all the men and women who have served this country - no matter how roundabout your path.