Memorial Day is a personal day for many Americans, and Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney are no exceptions. Both have family members who fought and died serving their country; Tierney’s family member fell in the Korean War, while Barber’s family member fell in Vietnam.
Actually, it was Barber’s grandfather, Willie T. Brickhouse Jr.
“I never met him,” Barber said. “He died December 26, 1967.”
One day after Christmas, three days before Barber’s mother’s 14th birthday.
“It was a bad time,” Barber said. “He was a great man, though.”
Barber has researched his family history over the years and learned a great deal. His mother lived in Germany for a bit in the 1960s and actually has a piece of the Berlin Wall that chipped off.
Brickhouse, interestingly enough, was pretty good at building things.
“He built a brick house on the Eastern Shore, which I think is the first brick house in Eastville,” Barber said. “Coincidence, but whatever. He graduated form Virginia State University and was commissioned as a second lieutenant right at graduation.”
Barber would always ask his mom what happened to his grandfather.
“It’s one of those situations where you lose someone and it’s so hard because he meant so much to his family,” Barber said. “We know there’s a lot of families in this country that have had similar stories like this – whether it was in Vietnam, whether it was in the Iraq War, whether it was now fighting in Afghanistan. I think it was important to tell the stories and remember them.”
Barber found out what happened to his grandfather via a Vietnam Veterans memorial site. Brickhouse was part of a two-aircraft operation in which one plane, equipped with spotlights, flew at a lower altitude and would spot targets for the gun ship flying above. Brickhouse was in the lower plane.
The engine failed. The plane crashed and exploded, killing Brickhouse and the other four men on board.
Naturally, Barber can’t help but think about his grandfather at this time of year.
“It’s what it’s about,” he said. “This is what Memorial Day’s about – to remember those who have fallen fighting for our country.”
Barber then shared a story from early in his career with the Giants. One day, while sitting in a meeting room, he got a letter from a stranger who knew the Mara family.
“It was from a guy up in Connecticut who knew my grandfather,” Barber said. “It was this long letter talking about how my grandfather, when they were in training, he remembers looking at him, and it’s freezing outside and his tears are frozen in his eyes. It’s this long letter. I sent it to my mom. It was just one of those great stories from some man who I didn’t know. He didn’t know me, but he knew the Maras, and he knew that I was one of the Maras’ favorites. It was moving. It really was.
“So happy Memorial Day to everyone out there,” Barber continued. “Our thoughts and condolences and our memories (go out) to all those who have lost those in pursuit of freedoms for this country.”