Monday, May 25, 2009

This is an article i wrote for the Wilson County Post in 2004. It was written for Father's Day, but i think it captures my feeling about my father and others in WWII as well as the other conflict when citizens took up their arms and lost their lives in defense of our flag, our freedom. May all of us enjoy Memorial Day and remember those for whom this day was created: those who have died in defense of our country.

Daddy and the War

He gave me the small box when I was back home on a business trip in June 2004.
It is a 1940's vintage "Johnson & Johnson deluxe Baby Gift Box." the size of a large novel with a baby blue and beige motif, now faded. The baby gifts have long been gone. I wondered if they might have been for me or my sister. In the place of the gifts are photos and a few letters.
They were his pictures and he passed them to me.
Mother has been in charge of our pictures, and they are proudly catalogued and labeled in album after album in a chest designed to hold those memories.
But these are his pictures and stored in his box. They are pictures of his war. Many can't be shown to polite company because they show the grisly side of that war in the Southeast Pacific. There also is some dark humor that should remain inside the box.
There are some wonderful pictures there also, several sent by my mother to him while he was half a world away, and I, unknowingly, was in my mewling baby stage. There a couple of the chubby bald and toothless baby grinning into the camera – some things do come back to roost -- and some of my mother, lovely ones and those which show her carrying me, which she sent to Gulfport, Mississippi, where he trained before boarding the liberty ship to head west, so far west that is called East. There is one of him in his Navy blues, holding his newborn. I guess it was when he bordered on AWOL to be with her while I was born: Poignant stuff.
But at the bottom of the box was a 5 X 7 inch photo. The paper is fading but the photo remains clear. When I first saw it, I somehow connected to the final scene of "Field of Dreams."
An old Navy friend called me "a sentimental old fool" when he read my last weekend epistle on growing up and sports in Lebanon. George is right, of course, but he is an old boatswainsmate, and I have found old boatswains mates nearly always right. Yet even though I knew my feelings, when I looked at the photo, danged near smacked me on the head with sentimentality, I didn't care.
He was a fine looking young man sixty-one years ago. He stands next to his buddy, and stares straight at the camera. He is almost at attention, and he is solid. A bivouac tent, palm trees and the mountains of the Philippines are in the background. It is a good picture of a good man.
He is a fine old man as he rolls on toward ninety-one this September. He is his own man, confident enough to joke about himself, still standing tall and supple like in the picture, a rather amazing physical specimen and even more of an amazing human being. He is about the nicest man I know. Pound for pound, he may be the strongest. I brag about him all the time.
I am proud of him for what he did back in that picture time. I'm even amazed at what he and all of those other men did in those perilous years, yanking themselves away from little places like Lebanon, Tennessee, from which they had not traveled far in their lifetime, training for a brief time like he did as a Navy Seabee, and then leaving budding careers, wives and children or children to be, and sailing half a world away to live in heat and humidity that makes the summer South look like an autumn in the Canadian Rockies.
There they fought, and others like them all over the world, fought and died and lived next to death until it was over. And they fought for a country and its constitution and the freedom of their countries and other countries. They fought for the idea of freedom. Pretty impressive stuff.
I have done a bit of traveling myself in the defense of my country. But I started when I was too young to know and looking for adventure. Career, wife, kids had not shown up on my radar scope. I was having fun. With those guys, it was different. They went to war and the outcome was not close to certain. They may have been our last of true civilian soldiers.
I also am proud of him now. So proud, it makes my buttons burst. I don't know if I will live as long, but I'm pretty sure I won't live as well. I wish that I could bottle him and capture all of his stories. He's only told me a few and I've forgotten some of those, but he captures the warmth and humor of his times when he tells them. There are some wonderful tales that everyone should hear. I fervently hope that I can tell my stories half as well when I close in on his age. Of course, he could well be there to critique me.
Recently, I was putting the box away after showing the pictures of him, my mother and my infancy to some folks out here in San Diego. It occurred to me that I wanted to share a piece of my dad with the Post readers around Father’s Day, share this good man with the good folks of Wilson County where he and his wife remain solid citizens.
So sentimental or not, enjoy a moment and a man eons away from today. He is a good man and the times will never change that.

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