My Great Grandfather Martin Hager lived long enough to be invited by the U.S. Government to return to Gettysburg on the 75th anniversary of that battle. All living veterans of the battle, North and South, were invited, and it was quite a grand affair and historic occasion. The government would pay for him and a companion to travel to Gettysburg and spend 9 days there, as they commemmorated the battlefield. Martin asked his Grandson, my Dad, to be his companion for the journey.
Alas, Dad had a previous commitment – he had joined the Christian Brothers and was required to report to his first school as part of the Brothers. So Martin invited Dad’s cousin, Austin, to accompany him instead. Dad always regretted not making that trip with Martin, who was really like his second father, and whom he chose to emulate, rather than his own father.
I ran into Austin, then 82 years old himself, at my Godmother Aunt Fran’s funeral in Pittsburgh back in 2001. I asked Austin what that was like, being Martin’s escort at the battle site. Austin just shook his head and said, “Well, I was 19 at the time, and Grandpa Hager was 91, but I’ll be damned if I could keep up with him. He wore me out that whole week! I’d call my father in the evenings to give him an update on the day’s activities. Dad lectured me, ‘Don’t let him go climbing up those Battlefield towers’, but hell , I couldn’t stop him! He was determined to go, and he went! He climbed every one of those towers! He wanted to get that overview of the fields his company had once fought on."
That same determination that found him stowed away on a train bound for the war at age 13 still drove him at age 91.