Defining a Well-Lived Life

In April, my grandfather, an Iwo Jima Marine and truly gentle soul, died.  I was asked by the family to write his obituary and when I was done I realized, without doubt, that his was the definition of a well-lived life.  It was a cathartic writing experience for me and led me to realize that I too wanted such a complete and full existence, never wasting a moment.  We only get one chance on the stage, folks. This life is not a dress-rehearsal. Make the most of it.

For your consideration: a well lived life:

NORTH EASTHAM – Joseph Blackburn, 86, artist, Iwo Jima Marine and long-time resident of North Eastham, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, April 18, in the company of his daughter Cynthia Robotham of Hyannis and beloved wife of 64 years, Pearl Blackburn.

Joseph was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts on November 17, 1925 and moved to Berlin, Connecticut with his family as a young child.

He joined the United States Marine Corp when he was 17 and by 18 he had landed with the Marine’s 5th division on Iwo Jima as a machine gunner in the Engineering Battalion. He was one of only 600 men to survive what was considered the bloodiest, month long battle in Marine Corps history. During his time with the Marines, Joseph wrote hundreds of letters home to his family, all illustrated elaborately with cartoons covering the envelopes. Some of his artwork from the war, along with letters he wrote while under fire on Iwo Jima, is displayed in the World War II museum in New Orleans, LA.

Never one to blame the Japanese people for the decisions of their commanders, Joseph found himself guarding a Japanese Colonel after the surrender of Japan. Seeing that the man had himself lost people he cared for, Joseph drew his portrait and gave it to the Colonel as a gift of peace. The next day, the Colonel brought an elaborate, 5-foot scroll from his home known as Japanese Heaven and gave it to Joseph as a gift. The scroll still hangs in granddaughter Kate’s home as a symbol of forgiveness, tolerance and peace.

When he returned home to Berlin after the war, Joseph fell “madly” (yes, his own words) with 18 year old Pearl Thompson of Hartford. They were married a year later and had two girls, Cynthia and Kathleen. Joseph attended Randall School of Art in Connecticut on the G.I. bill and eventually worked as Art Director for General Electric in Plainville, Connecticut. Joseph also served as a selectman, Civil Defense Director, in many capacities at the Berlin Congregational Church as well as volunteering for the Boy Scouts of America. During the fifties he built a crashed plane and rocket replicas to full size for Boy Scout exercises.

He and Pearl moved to North Eastham in 1977 where he worked on the Mosquito Pest Control until his retirement in 1990. A gifted oil artist, Josephs’ work can be found in numerous churches, museums and private homes across the Cape and nation-wide. He was known to paint for the sheer joy of doing so and often painted elaborate seaside scenes on the green head fly trap boxes that could be found on salt marshes across the Cape during the eighties (many of which were frequently stolen for the artwork).

Joseph and Pearl were avid gardeners and kept the grounds of their home plentiful with flowers, fruit trees and vegetable beds, all of which were often toured at the requests of passerby’s. If one could not find the Blackburn’s at home, one need only to drive the mile to Nauset Beach and find them enjoying the vistas from the dunes. Joseph will be greatly missed by all who loved him.

In addition to his wife Pearl, Joseph is survived by two daughters; Cynthia Robotham and her husband Jerry of Hyannis, MA and Kathleen Bachta and her husband Robert of Jefferson City, Missouri; grandchildren; Jacob Bachta of Jefferson City, MO, Joseph Robotham of Hyannis, MA, and Kate Conway and her husband Russell, of Bourne, MA; great grandchildren, Finnian and Kalli Conway of Bourne, MA. He is also survived by beloved sister-in-law, Mildred Snow of Berlin, CT whose late husband, Charles, was Joseph’s best friend.

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