A lucky penny from his young brother, a St. Christopher's medal, a small metal container with a statue of Christ that his grandfather carried during World War II and a vial with his stepfather's ashes after cancer took his life at age 41.A lucky penny from his young brother, a St. Christopher's medal, a small metal container with a statue of Christ that his grandfather carried during World War II and a vial with his stepfather's ashes after cancer took his life at age 41.
These are the things Chris Nelson carries daily in his pocket. They fit in the palm of his hand.
After serving a tour in Iraq, the 22-year-old Army Ranger is now serving in a remote area of Afghanistan. As a boy, Nelson spent his summers on Gull Lake forging a deep bond with his grandfather that surpassed time and distance and death.
"I never saw such a hero worship and a devotion between a grandfather and a little boy," said Ellen Mueller Lindeman, Nelson's grandmother, who grew up in Little Falls and now lives in Garrison. Her late husband Carl Mueller joined the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles and served in World War II where he was wounded and taken prisoner. Mueller, who died in 1995, was post commander of the VFW in Jenkins. Nelson was so devoted to his grandfather, he joined the same unit and same division.
"He just wanted to get as close as he could get and he sure did," Lindeman said. "They had such a closeness, they didn't need to talk much they just knew and Chris has grown up so much like his grandfather. ... It gives the word legacy a whole new meaning.
"If you knew Carl and you knew Chris they came out of the same pea pod. I feel like someone on the outside that just watched this whole thing like a wonderful glorious movie that I was so privileged to watch this relationship and be part of it. It was a privilege to know Carl and it's a privilege to know Chris and I think it will always be that way."
Nearly nine years ago on Memorial Day, the Dispatch published a poem Nelson wrote about his late grandfather, a man he called his best friend and someone he loved more than anyone else. Since Nelson was 5, he and his grandfather spent every summer together from spring until school started in the fall. They didn't have to talk much, they had an innate understanding. In his poem, Nelson wrote as a memoriam he recalled how his grandfather told him stories of jumping out of an airplane over World War II France, being shot by Germans and held captive.
"I want to be just like him," Nelson wrote in his poem, which ran along with a photo of Chris as a boy wearing his grandfather's veterans hat.
"And some day I'll have a son
We will fish a lot
And I'll tell him about you, Grampa
Until then I'll think of you and wear your hat
And be so proud
That you are my Grampa, still
In heaven waiting for me.
Where one day we'll go fishing
And we'll be together again.
While in Iraq, Nelson escaped serious injury after vehicles he was in were hit by improvised explosive devices.
"He luckily walked away from it and Chris came home on leave early last spring and got married and had a baby girl and his baby was 3 weeks old and Chris got called back to Afghanistan now," his grandmother said.
She said her grandson has a deep love of his fellow soldier, doesn't like war and feels especially for the children he sees, while being committed to his job. He's a young man who understands the front lines of pain and loss. Nelson's mother had breast cancer at age 40 and his stepfather died of cancer last fall.
Lindeman said so many people are connected by a thread of having a loved one who either served or is serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their stories provide a common ground, Lindeman said, that helps people feel they are not alone.
"We are all in it together and these kids are precious and deserve so much respect and help," she said. "Nobody's alone. We can't do anything by ourselves but we can set hearts on fire for Memorial Day, that's almost a holy word, the memories it brings back of Chris as a little boy on Gull Lake and fishing and catching fireflies and all the giggles in bed at night telling stories and telling him stories about his mother. It's a sweet memory time and we should all take advantage of that.
"Every person in the world should have such a blessing, such a closeness with their grandchild. I think it's really rare that such a closeness comes. We're really proud of Chris and proud of everybody that is doing the same thing."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.