Memorial Day: Time to honor my grandfather, and a dear friend

Adrian Cronauer
Adrian Cronauer

Memorial Day weekends used to offer several choices for celebrations and remembering but COVID-19 took some events off schedules and others’ decisions also took away the annual BBQ and Bluegrass Festival at Chantilly Farms, an annual Memorial Day mainstay, is no more.

Gone too is the annual Rolling Thunder ride of motorcyclists to the National Mall of Washington, DC after the Pentagon pulled out the welcoming mat following the 2019 ride and COVID effectively wiped out plans to stage one last summer anyway.

They are gone. So, too, are those we need to remember on this weekend dedicated to those who served.

On Monday, Memorial Day, let’s take time to remember and honor those who have fallen in service to our nation or had to come home with horrific memories and nightmares of war.

I plan to visit Buffalo Mountain Church cemetery to remember and honor Walter McPeak, my maternal grandfather. He served with honor in World War I. A plaque at his grave remembers that service. He never talked about the horrors he saw or experienced there.

Then I will head over to the Vietnam Veterans’ cemetery in Dublin to visit the graves of Adrian Cronauer and his wife, Jeanne. Adrian, the Armed Forces Radio DJ immortalized by Robin Williams in the movie, “Good Morning, Vietnam!” was a long-time friend.

We met in 1967 through his then-girlfriend Jeanne Muse, who worked with the federal probation office in Roanoke in the mid-to-late 1960s when I was reporting for The Roanoke Times. Adrian came back to America from Vietnam and became general manager of Channel 27.

Adrian’s stories about Vietnam were sometimes entertaining and funny, sometimes horrific but always informational. He talked me into acting in a role in a Roanoke Showtimer’s play. He also introduced me to the music of Shel Silverstein, a folksinger, songwriter, children’s book author, and Playboy magazine cartoonist. I later had a chance to meet and interview Silverstein in Chicago while working for a newspaper in Illinois.

The Cronauers remained friends after I left Roanoke for a new job in Illinois and came back for their wedding before they headed to New York City for broadcasting and teaching work there. Later, he went to law school and moved to the Washington area, where they purchased and moved into the same condo high rise that was also our home for 23 years.

Adrian Cronauer (left) and Robin Williams.

Those who met Adrian after they saw Good Morning, Vietnam! were surprised he neither looked like Robin Williams and was not as manic as the actor portrayed him in the movie. He later became the director of the missing veterans’ office at the Pentagon before retiring and he and Jean moved back to this area and lived in Troutville before she died first and then him.

He was a good friend and his work as the DJ helped a of service members face deal with the horrors of Vietnam.

On Monday, I will visit him, kneel, and thank him for his service and sacrifice.

I will also remember a dear friend.

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