He told them that kids screw up all the time -- and that when they did, just apologize. He told them to look around Winfield and talk with the town elders about what life had taught them.
Life's lessons are a whole lot better than reading out of a textbook, their grandfather would say, if you just listen to somebody tell it.
That was one of the things he stressed most, to listen and learn.
"I've always tried to use examples of people who were successful in life and what they did different than other people that made them stand out," he says. "I tell them all the time: Y'all have lost your mom and dad, and it sucks. There's just no way to say it; it's just bad. But you have to play with the cards you're dealt."
At 65, he's proud of how well his three grandchildren, especially Alison as the oldest, are doing in life. In Alabama-speak, "They've got their heads screwed on right."
"But I guess I've always been real positive that they would excel."
When grief strikes
Alison attended the University of Alabama for a semester before heading on to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
At one point early on, she and her Pepperdine suitemates gathered around to tell each other their life stories. Much of it was normal college banter: problems with parents, sibling rivalries, difficult boyfriends.
Then came Alison's turn to speak. Usually she kept her story to herself, but this time she told everything. "It felt good to open up to them, because trying to keep that kind of thing under wraps around people that I live with 24-7 would have been a huge burden. Those same people are still my closest friends."
One of them, Jordan Willner, still remembers that day and how everyone else "kind of wished we could take our stories back because it doesn't even compare."
"No one would ever guess in a million years that this girl has no parents," she says, "because she has such a high spirit about life."
It's strange how grief works. It differs with each person, each child. And when it comes, it can be paralyzing.
Alison had never really cried over her parents' deaths. It was as if she had tucked her sadness into a remote part of her brain. Mom and Dad will come back, she told herself.
"I just sort of put that in the background as if my parents hadn't died," she says, "and that caught up with me."
During her sophomore year, she spent a semester abroad in Italy. Traveling overseas wasn't unusual. She had vacationed in London and visited her friend Becky Card in Paris, and she loved it.
Yet there in Italy, she learned that the mother of one of her friends had died of cancer. Then, she was on Facebook when friends in Alabama started posting news of a 16-year-old boy who had been killed in a car crash in a neighboring town.
She didn't know the boy, but she flashed back to when her parents died: the rush of people at the house, the gifts, the flowers, the food.
Alison cried for a week. She couldn't leave her room.
Friends and family rallied around her. Her stepmother told her she was finally confronting her grief in ways she hadn't 10 years earlier: "This is you dealing with stuff that you never came face to face with."
"I just thought about this little boy's mom and the fact that she sent her 16-year-old son out for a night with his friends and he got into a car accident and never came home," Alison says. "It was the hardest thing for me."
Her grandfather and her friends encouraged her to stick out her semester abroad. She did. She considers the experience one of the greatest of her life.
'She's setting an example'
Wearing a navy sundress and white blazer, Alison exudes poise and confidence inside Sen. Shelby's office in the Russell Federal Building, where she interned this summer.
The senior senator from Alabama says he's proud of her father "and what he stood for." He's equally proud of the young woman she's become.
"She's strong. She's steadfast. She has purpose and she's setting an example out there," Shelby says. "If her father was here, he'd be proud of her."
Alison is being put through college with the help of the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, nonprofit groups that use private donations to help children of those killed serving the nation.
She's majoring in communications and political science. She's thought of becoming a news anchor but isn't so sure now. There's still time to figure out what lies ahead.
Her parents taught her to be driven -- to chase her dreams. "When I feel there's an obstacle I can't overcome or something's too hard or I'm not good enough for something, I think about, 'You know my dad thought I could do it. My mom thought I could do it. So I know I can do it.'"
Children of the fallen, she says, should consider the fact that their parents can't live out their lives, so they should follow their own dreams.
"I think back on my mom and dad, and all the obstacles that they were able to get through in life and just how strong and determined they were. I want to live my life for them."
Interning in Washington allowed her to make weekly visits to Arlington. "Most cemeteries scare me, but I've never been scared here."
Small pebbles sit atop her father's grave -- a token of love and appreciation left by people she's never met. It's nice to know, she says, that others still miss him, too.
On summer days, when the wind whips her hair and the oak leaves rustle, she can sense her father's presence. She tells him she loves him.
She once read a note left by a widow on another grave. It said, "If love could've saved you, you would've lived forever."
She thinks back on that note, she says, because it applies to her father, too.
On this day, she walks down Grant Drive, hooks around onto another road and walks through the McClellan Arch, once the cemetery's main entrance. There on the arch is the message relayed to her by her father so many years before:
Rest on embalmed and sainted dead, Dear as the blood ye gave, No impious footsteps here shall tread On the herbage of your grave.
Alison leaves alone. A legacy of her parents. A legacy of war.