Remembering Charles: A soldier, a friend
What is lost when living memory of a thing passes away, and all that is left is the written or recorded memories of those who witnessed the moments that define our world?
It is impossible to say, but regardless of the answer eventually all things pass into history and we are left only with quiet ghosts, shadows of remembrance collected for posterity. I was painfully reminded of that reality in November after the death of one of the most remarkable men I have ever known.
On Nov. 16, the world lost a great man. Charles Truman Illsley, known as Chuck to so many of his friends and family members, passed away from complications related to a fall he experienced months earlier. It was his 92nd birthday.
War and peace, love and loss, struggle and success; during his life Charles walked with real heros, and fought against real villains. He had great loves, lost a child, liberated a concentration camp during the Holocaust, and generally speaking lived the sort of life most of us dream about.
From fighting on the front lines in WWII, to his career working with nuclear weapons at Rocky Flats, to his retired years as a fixture of the Grand Lake community — especially the local Rotary Club — Charles lived life as an adventure and while his passing brought tears to my eyes, and many others, I know deep down that any person would be lucky to live a life as full as his.
I first met Charles, as I always called him, on an early May afternoon not long after he returned from Europe after attending a concert recognizing Holocaust survivors and liberators. I wrote a story about his trip, and his time in the war, and during our interview he mentioned a war diary. Charles wanted to gather, for posterity, his memories from the war.
With his diary as his guide and my younger eyes for reading entries, we spent months working through some of the darkest times a person could imagine.
We finished his last few entries the Friday before he passed.
I was lucky enough to know Charles before he died and I am forever proud to call him my friend, as I imagine most all who knew him are. As the number of men who, like Charles, fought through the horrors of WWII continues to dwindle we as society wonder what their passing will mean and what we have lost, beyond just their cherished presence. As we search for answers time moves inexorably forward heedless of our confusion.
And so all we are left to do is what we can, to honor the memories of those who fought and bled and died to create our world.
Rest in peace, old soldier.
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