Friday, February 8, 2019

Didja Ever Wonder

This photo has nothing to do with the entry I just couldn't find anything that matched up well with the sentiment
The last couple of weeks have found me both mentally and emotionally disconnected. Usually, when I'm writing, my thoughts seem to have a certain flow to them. The passing of my father, kind of knocked it out of whack as I dealt with feelings of loss and an unusual sense of calm which comes when something expected has come to pass. Then, of course, is all the business and property matters which got dropped on me at the same time.

This morning, I was looking at my timeline on Facebook, and noticed somebody had posted the song Knock Three Times. Since I really like the song, I shared it and a few moments later a friend of mine reminded me a while back I had written this about the song.  l When I'm going to post a link to an old blog entry, I take the time re-read the entry to see if I missed any grammatical errors or need to add notes because of things which have changed. In rereading this old entry, my imagination took over for a while and I began to wonder about the people I had written about who were from earlier in my life.

The Internet is a very big place, and there are lots of things to read, see, and do but in all the time I've been writing this blog, almost a full decade, I have only heard from one person I've written about here. Granted a lot of the people I write about are women and if I do include the last name it is probably their maiden name which makes it even less likely they would've run across it.  Knowing all of this doesn't prevent me from wondering what happened to all those people.

Like most folks, there are people in my past I would prefer to leave there. But there are people in the past whose positive memory makes me wonder what they're up to today and if they are doing okay. One of the people I knew in high school was a day nicknamed Pyro (Yes, he did, in fact, blow up the high school chemistry classroom in high school). Where is he now? The experiment he was working on was supposed to be an alternative energy source derived from raw sewage. Did it ever make it past the drawing board?

Several of the talented people I went to school with have gone on to have careers in music, theater, and elsewhere in the arts. What about the ones I haven’t heard from --  the ones whose life took a different turn and ended up only singing for their own children or painting in their basement. There's nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice to know they are still enjoying what I admired about them.

Then of course, there were all the friends and relationships which wandered in and out of my life and turned me into the human being I am today. Where are you people at? Growing up as an Army brat, I would be on a base a year or two and then move on. This was at a time before the Internet and when long-distance was an expensive proposition. Usually, those relationships just ended. I wonder all those people are -- I hope they are all happy wherever they are.

Anyway, enough time pondering this-- time to get back to work on my book. But first, I think I'll give this old song a listen.  Rosetta Britton, know I remember you fondly and hope you still have reason to share your wonderful smile often. If you ever wondered – I’m doing fine.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

You Will Live On, Dad. Farewell For Now

As a kid, it puzzled me why my father would refuse to drive anywhere on Christmas day. The biggest impact to me as a kid was if a Christmas present needed a battery we did not have, it would have to wait until the next day. When I was older, I asked my father why he refused to drive on Christmas, his explanation was simple: he didn't want to risk getting in an accident and destroying Christmas for them and their family going forward. It would've been devastating if someone was killed. It was years later when I was in the Air Force before he gave me a fuller explanation. 

My father was a company commander in Vietnam during 1968. It was one of the worst times to be a Captain in the country because aside from the normal dangers of war, there was a bounty on the head of all company commanders. Also, America's attitudes were shifting due to the Tet Offensive. By all objective accounts, if we kept going after the Tet Offensive, we would've won the war. The press lost the war. In the latter part of December, one of his troops was severely wounded while out on the last patrol in the days before Christmas. The soldier as taken to the Evac hospital, and once my Dad's company stood down for the holiday he made a trip to the hospital to visit his wounded man. When he got there, he was told the man died. 

Dad went over the Mortuary to say farewell to his fallen trooper, and the specialist who worked there took him to where the body was stored. Looking down at the paperwork, my father noticed the man's date of death was listed as 25 December. Dad found that completely unacceptable, and asked the specialist to change it. The Specialist refused because, in the pre-computer Army, he would have to retype the entire form just to change the date. Also, the Specialist didn't want to be late for the special Christmas dinner at the chow hall. My father nodded and walked out; he returned a short while later with a fifth of Jack Daniels. 

The Specialist accepted the offering to retype the form, changing the date of death the 27th. In doing this, my father ensured the man's family would never associate Christmas day with the anniversary of his death. It was a lesson I remembered. Because of that lesson, when my father passed away, quietly in his sleep, on 21 December 2018 the only people notified were family. He would not want his passing to negatively affect everyone's holiday. I made sure it did not.

My father has been mentioned in this blog before, among them, his genius for inventing the after-breakfast nap and the frustrations of the past three years as his health declined. He was a man who actually lived three different lives as an adult. First, he was a soldier, after he retired, he became a DOD civilian, then after he retired from again, he became a gentleman farmer. I grew up with the soldier for a father, disappearing for at least two years of my life, one in Korea and one in Vietnam. My brother came along at the end of his military service and for part of his life as a DOD civilian. Both of us as adults knew him as a retiree. It may seem each one of those things is different, but they really aren't in the way he went about them. He never lost his soldier spirit and way of doing things. Along the way, he taught us the same lessons of patriotism, selflessness, integrity, caring, reverence, and charity. All of those traits he possessed and led to his being awarded the Silver Star while he was in Vietnam, read the citation above.

Dad taught me to watch people and see beyond what my eyes told me. Find the story underneath and appreciate everyone for who they are. Never prejudge anyone, because you will always be wrong. He possessed a wicked sense of humor and often would say something funny when least expected.  He was also generous with both his money and time to charitable endeavors.
Dad was very specific about what he wanted for his funeral, and we did our best to ensure the sendoff was exactly what he wanted right down to the wood coffin Like his life, there were three parts: the church funeral, a Masonic funeral, and military honors. Standing behind his flag-draped coffin, I related the story about his Silver Star and a few other tales during the church service. Most of those stories have a basis in his humility. It was revealed how silent he was about his history when local friends and associates came up and told me they were surprised to learn of his heroism in Vietnam. Many did not even know he was a Vietnam veteran. 

Even though my father was not killed in combat, he was honored with a 21-gun salute for his service. The second youngest of his great-grandchildren cried due to the noise, I found myself crying at the realization we were closing the book on his physical existence. One of the most solemn moments in my life was when Master Sgt. Ortiz kneeled in front of me to hand me the folded flag with the thanks of a grateful nation. It was difficult because at the same time I was feeling the enormous amount of patriotism while my heart was breaking at having to say goodbye. 

The last three years or so my father's life have not been easy. My mother passed away 17 years ago leaving him on his own, and he reached a point where he needed help. I found myself continually going to battle against the VA and unscrupulous charities on his behalf. In an ultimate moment of cruelty, a call came the Monday after his funeral from the VA. They were finally processing the paperwork I submitted last February. Bureaucratic bastards. 

During those years the man in front of me was slowly fading away as CTE and dementia took its toll. Anyone else who's been through it can tell you it is difficult not to be angry at the person but the disease which is not their fault. Three years is a long time to deal with those difficult emotions. Then, I was presented with an opportunity to work my way through them when I volunteered to go through his home and sort through things separating mementos from those things needing to be donated to things which just need to be thrown away. In doing the work, I rediscovered my father and all the pain of the last three years started to fade away. I would suggest it to anyone who has a parent or loved one pass away. It is a way to rediscover all the things you remember about them, and at the same time, you occasionally run across something which affirms how much you meant to them.

My father lived for almost 83 years.  Full, happy, and productive years that left behind a legacy living on in two sons, six grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren (so far).