On Memorial Day, I am remembering my beloved grandfather, Wade Hampton Carden, who served in the Office of the Quartermaster General from 1942 to 1945. As a former sales manager of a grocery chain in Norfolk, Virginia, he was charged with supplying armed forces in Asia, Europe, and Africa with cigarettes, shaving supplies, toothpaste, candy, gum, soft drinks, and other things that made their lives a little easier.
At its peak, this procurement through the War Production Board required 50% of the nation’s candy bar production, 100% of the match box production, 50% of the Virginia peanut crops, 35% of the cigar production, 50% of the chewing gum, more than 50% of the razor blade production, 50% of the good fountain pens, and 100% of the popular brands of cigarette lighters.
Here is what he had to say about his service:
I was proud to have had a part in defending our country and way of life against the Germans and the Japanese. Colonel Webster, “Pop” Hover, and I were together from the beginning to the end. We saw the operation grow in volume from nothing in early 1942 to over $500,000,000 a year by 1945, serving seven million troops overseas. I was privileged to work for almost five years with a fine group of people and saw no one try to profit personally in any way. They performed their duties unselfishly with honor and trust. On leaving active service, Colonel Webster and I were awarded the Legion of Merit, and I resumed my membership in the Officers Reserve Corps, Army of the United States, as a Lieutenant Colonel.Wade Hampton Carden
My grandfather, who I called Papa, died on August 15, 2006 at the age of 95. I still think of him a lot. Here is the eulogy I wrote for him:
“Did you see the look in his eyes?” my husband Enrico asked me, referring to the photo of you that would appear with your obituary. Warm and rich, they told me unspeakable things like unconditional love. Delightfully mischievous, they reminded me of your playful nature. When Gram would remind you to take out the garbage, I remember how you would cock your head and say, “Ag, why is it that when you look at me, you think of trash?”
“What do you see in his eyes?” I asked Enrico.
“A man who has won the war.”
Yes, you did, Papa. Your resume’ tells the story of a boy who grew up barefoot on a farm in east Tennessee, took an overnight bus to Harvard Business School, married and raised three children with a beautiful schoolteacher, and rose to be one of the top executives of one of the most successful companies in the most powerful city in the world. And not only did you win, but you won your way – with honesty and integrity and respect.
You sometimes liked to point out how you were as tall as Abe Lincoln and had the same shoe size as George Washington. To your grandchildren, you were a living hero. Many people have memories of a lovable and warm grandfather, which of course you were, but what was especially unique about you was your noble character, your pride, and your intense desire to pass down your beliefs. To borrow my husband’s words, you were “an eagle, an American eagle.”
Inside me, you are still soaring.