My great grandfather, William Henry, as a young teenager, stowed away on a ship, escaping from his s***hole country: Ireland. As an illegal alien, he worked at jobs that most Americans didn’t want: a bootblack in the Union Army, a coal miner, and finally at a foundry in Chattanooga.
His son, my grandfather, learned how to operate a steam-shovel, building many of the rural roads in western North Carolina. My dad and uncle were born in the roadside shanty towns that trailed alongside the construction crew. My grandfather came west to build the Hoover Dam. With no work available after that, he and his family lived for years in a tent in the woods outside of Redding. It wasn’t until World War II that he was able to find work building Liberty Ships at Mare Island.
My great grandfather realized the American dream. He bettered himself and made a better life for himself and his family. He lived to see his grandson, my dad, graduate from Pacific Union College in 1943, becoming the first to do so.
I am grateful that my great grandfather did what he thought he had to do. My life is the better for it.