This is not about national news, partisan bickering, stupidity of government, comedy (oh, wait, is that the same thing?) or any other post I have done. This is about a boy and his dad. I’m was the boy and this is about one of my heroes, my Dad. Forgive me if the title is a little misleading for some, it’s not about the current war, but on the effect of war on a single man, one who is gone, but not forgotten. On the cusp of another Memorial Day, its important for me to put this down, and I hope it’s message is important to you, because my dad was one of the “Greatest Generation” so eloquently described by Tom Brokaw. A career Army Officer, a patriot, a deeply religious man and my hero.
re·mem·brance (P) Pronunciation Key (r-mmbrns)n. 1.The act or process of remembering. 2.The state of being remembered: holds him in fond remembrance. 3.Something serving to celebrate or honor the memory of a person or event; a memorial. 4.The length of time over which one’s memory extends. 5.Something remembered; a reminiscence. 6.A souvenir. 7.A greeting or token expressive of affection.
This is my remembrance of a man who fought in three shooting wars, so that his kids and grand kids and generations beyond would have a life better than his own.
Dad was born in McAlister, Oklahoma where his dad was an assistant warden at the Oklahoma State Prison. He used to say that he wasn’t born in Texas, but got here as soon as he could. Grand Dad was a career army officer who after WWI was assigned to “non-military” duties temporarily following a reduction in forces. Grand Dad was recalled to active duty the following year and stayed in the Army until his retirement in 1949. Growing up on a number of military bases, all Calvary units, gave dad an early inside look at the functioning of the Army. He decided in High School that he would be a career soldier like his dad, and his dad before him. Joining what would become ROTC in High School, Dad spent his summers training. He graduated from H.S. in 1939 and was off to the University of Texas to obtain a degree in Political Science. He enlisted in the US Army in 1940 recognizing then, even if few else did, that we would soon be involved in a growing war in Europe and possibly in the pacific. He was stationed at Fort Sam Houston as an EM and was commissioned in July, 1941 as a 2nd Lt.
Immediately following dad’s commissioning, his dad was ordered to take charge of a battalion of Philippine Scouts on Mindanao Island, Republic of the Philippines.
Dad met mom, got married in 1942 and in 1943 had their first child, my sister Pamela. In 1944 long after Grand Dad had been imprisoned in a POW camp by the Japanese, Dad was sent to England for the invasion of the mainland. I have written about some of the exploits of Dad’s unit, the 405th Infantry of the 102nd ID here, here and here.
I don’t remember anything about WWII having been born in Germany after the war, but I remember Korea and Vietnam.
We lived in former Army hospital housing in Fort Benning, Ga. where my two brothers Doug and Bert were born. In the fall of 1950. Dad was an instructor at The Infantry School at Fort Benning. The message came down via the routine channels. Ship out to Korea, assignment, communications officer for a Tank battalion, not a great assignment for an Infantry Officer and Dad recounts that he worried about the effect on his career as an Infantryman.
Moving to San Antonio, Texas for the duration of the war, we settled down in a house across the street from my Dad’s parents.
Dad landed in Korea where he took part in the breakout from the Pusan Perimeter. As allied forces pushed the PRK forces back Dad was there.
I don’t know all of the details of his time in Korea, I recall him talking about the push to the Yalu River with his troops and the “Frozen Chosin” and the battle with the Red Chinese in December 1950 when they crossed the Yalu river in force. One story related the fate of a rather selfish captain who, having received a bottle of booze hid it outside rather than share it with anyone. In the middle of the night, he decided to sneak out for a quick nip. The alcohol was unfrozen of course, but still below zero when the unlucky captain swigged a mouthful. The freezing cold liquid froze his esophagus and stomach and he died in severe pain. After being pushed back from the Yalu Dad given a chance to “volunteer” for a dangerous assignment, one more in keeping with his training in “The Queen of Battle” as the Infantry is known. The assignment? Training and taking Republic of Korea troops behind enemy lines and into North Korea.
In the following summer, Dad and a force of ROK commandos were “escaping” from a mission in North Korea on a powered junk with the North Koreans hot on their trail. The PRKA began lobbing mortar shells at the junk, one of them hitting it amidships and tossing dad and a couple of others into the water. Dad didn’t swim thanks to a real fear of water after nearly drowning as a child. Grand Mom wouldn’t let him “go back in the water” and he developed a phobia of water deeper than a coffee cup. Waking up on the deck of the destroyer or some other navy craft sent to pull them out, Dad looked up at an Ensign and asked who he had to thank for pulling him out of the water. The Ensign looked at him quizzically and said “Captain, you were the first to swim to the boat.”
Dad returned to the US in 1952 and we moved back to Fort Benning where I entered the first grade. Moving to Germany in 1954, Dad was stationed at 7th Army Headquarters in 1956 when in October, ’56 the Hungarian people rose up against their Soviet Oppressors. On November 4, ’56 Soviet forces entered Hungry with a mind to crush the Hungarian Revolution. At the same time in Egypt, Israel, France and England invaded and took over the Suez Canal. Crisis on two continents, was World War III about to begin?
Our emergency travel bags were packed, and the possibility of war with the Soviet Union over the invasion of Hungry necessitating the evacuation of American Dependents was a real possibility. Dad worried about our safety, at the same time he had to plan for possible war.
War was averted and the intervention of Eisenhower forced Israel, England and France to withdraw from the Suez. In the summer of ’57 we headed home again and Arkansas was our next stop as Dad became the Adviser to the Arkansas National Guard.
More troubles, not long after we moved to Arkansas, the Governor called out the guard to prevent integration at Central High School in Little Rock. All of us had gone to school for years with children of other colors, other races, other religions; we didn’t understand the hatred we saw. Years later, Dad recalled the relief he felt when Eisenhower called in the 101st Airborne to protect the students, and Dad did everything he could to keep the Arkansas National Guard in check.
Summer of ’61 brought more problems. Despite growing up in a very much “Happy Days” environment in Arkansas, South East Asia was heating up. Our new President ordered American Advisers to Vietnam to assist the RVN forces, Dad received his orders in June and in mid August he landed in the RVN. The next 12 months were an agony for Mom and the four kids. Usually once a week there was a news cast about Vietnam, most of my fellow 10th graders had no idea where Vietnam was or why we were trying to help. That would change.
In March, we received a phone call from a friend who told us to quickly turn to CBS news; Dad was on! Quickly we changed channels, but were too late. I remember Mom crying that night, fearing that after surviving two shooting wars, Dad may not make it home from the third one. He did though and in late July, 1962 Dad returned home two weeks earlier than scheduled, his mom had died and the Army opted to let him come home early for the funeral.
Next assignment, the Pentagon and Washington D.C. Actually, Building T-7 one of the Temporary buildings built during WWII to last 5 years. At 20, this one was still going strong.
Missiles of October, Kennedy assassination, the Congo. I lived in fear that he would once again have to go somewhere and put his life on the line. But the next three years passes without major family disruption. I graduated from H.S. and headed for college. Dad was assigned to Panama. He returned to Fort Sam as Post IG for his final tour of duty. In May of 1972 Dad submitted his retirement papers. “I’m tired he said, I want to enjoy my granddaughter and spend time with your mom.”
In June he received a phone call from a Lt. Col. in the Pentagon asking for a copy of his medical records; he was being considered for promotion to Brigadier General. “Go to hell Col.” Dad said, “I’ve put in 32 years in this Army, I’m retiring in 20 days. Of course, the family was disappointed. Knowing Dad would have gone from Private E-1 to General without benefit of a college degree would have been quite an accomplishment, but Dad was adamant.
His retirement years were good ones, he and Mom spent the next 26 years sharing time with each other. He had a stroke in ’84 but substantially recovered though now he felt much “sicker”. He survived a bout of thyroid cancer. Mom had multiple mini-strokes over a years time and died in ’98. Dad was devastated
He never got over his love for mom though, each night he would kiss her picture and say “good night, I’ll be with you soon enough.” Dad’s cancer returned with a vengeance and he refused treatment. “I’m old and tired,” he said, “I want to be with your mom.”
On September 3, 2000 in mid afternoon, and in his sleep, he gasped one last time and “Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth.”
I learned a lot from my Dad, and the older I got, the wiser he got. I learned to love my God, my family, my country. I learned that all men are created equal and though equal outcomes are impossible, if you try to be the best that you can, you never lose.
I learned that there are truly evil men out there, governments that trample on the rights of their citizens, governments that would love to crush America. I learned too that the American people are the most generous in the world, that we have a way of life that really is, as Ronald Reagan noted “The Shining City On The Hill.”
I miss you Dad, and I want you to know that you were really and truly a hero to me, and to others. You didn’t die in war, but you gave your life for your country in the best possible way, by living, but by also willing to put your life on the line. Thanks Dad, you will ALWAYS be my hero.