A grateful daughter reconciles with her memories of her dad’s military career.
I grew up in a military home.
That statement conjures up all sorts of feelings, images and memories for every person that can make that statement.
For me, it means many things.
For a long time in my life, it was mostly superficial.
It means that we moved a lot. I never went to the same school two years in a row until I was in the tenth grade.
It meant that making friends was really hard.
I figured, what’s the point.
Just about the time I made some great friends, we would move again and I didn’t want to deal with the loss.
As a kid, I lived on and off military bases, experienced military hospitals and military schools.
I didn’t realize that there were actually other grocery stores and places to shop other than the Base Exchange and Commissary.
Growing up, of course, I knew my dad had a career in the military but for me, that just represented all of the things that I have just described.
It was all about how his career impacted me and my daily life.
It wasn’t until many years later as an adult in my own career as a superintendent of schools that my whole perspective began to change.
Our school district was planning our annual Veteran’s Day event a few years ago and it occurred to me that I had never really thought about my dad’s contributions to our country as a distinguished veteran.
So I asked my dad, who was 84 at the time, if he would like to be a part of our Veteran’s Day assembly with other local veterans. I really didn’t think he would say yes, because he had always been a quiet, reserved man who never talked much about his military days, at least not to me.
But to my surprise, he said yes!
It was on that day, as our school children and community leaders paid tribute to all of the veterans who attended the school assembly, that what I knew to be true about my dad completely changed.
I saw a man this time, not just a man who was my dad.
I saw a man who joined the Navy Seabees at an age younger than 18.
I saw a man who had never been beyond the small rural farm he was born and raised on, be put on a ship with hundreds of other young men and sent to the other side of the world.
I saw a man who witnessed horrible atrocities as he served his country during World War II.
I saw a man who later joined the Air Force to again faithfully serve his country in the Korean Conflict and with two tours of duty to Vietnam.
I saw a man who lost close friends to bullets that zipped right passed his own head.
I saw a man that had to leave his family behind for remote tours of duty and put himself in harm’s way defending our country’s freedom.
Defending my freedom.
It was at this moment in time that I came to see my dad, not as simply “daddy” but a man who sacrificed his own physical comfort, safety and well-being time and after doing what he had committed to do.
On March 28, 2015, this valiant man left this world for his final resting place at the age of 88.
He had succumbed to many service-connected illnesses, among others, including prostate cancer, many skin cancers and macular degeneration that left him legally blind.
It was during his funeral with full military honors that the final meaning of his life’s service and sacrifice materialized right before my eyes.
The symbolism in each part of the military honors was unfamiliar to me so I read more about it and came to understand each detail.
My life has been forever impacted.
At the funeral service, the United States flag draped my daddy’s casket to honor the memory of his service to his country. The flag was placed on the closed casket so the union blue field was at his head and over his left shoulder.
At the graveside, a full uniformed detail was present to bring my daddy to his final resting place. Their coordinated movements were of such detailed precision and honor that I knew my dad was being honored as a true military hero.
After the chaplain offered his final words of tribute, I wasn’t quite prepared for the intense emotional experience I was about to have.
At that point, my mind had been so focused on what was before me, that I hadn’t noticed that the military detail had dispersed to the outer areas of the cemetery.
A lone soldier stood by the road with his bugle lifted to the sky as he played Taps.
No other sounds existed for me in those few moments.
After Taps was played, the flag was carefully folded into the symbolic tri-cornered shape.
It was folded 13 times on the triangles, representing the 13 original colonies.
When the flag is folded, no red or white stripe shows, leaving only the blue field with stars.
As my family sat at the grave site watching this intensely emotional ceremony, I realized that in just a few short seconds, I was going to be presented with the final symbolic gesture that represented of all that my dad’s service and sacrifice to our country.
We all stood to honor our country’s flag being neatly folded with such precision.
Then the Sergeant of the military details turned to me to present the flag.
He stood in front of me, holding the flag with the straight edge facing me.
He slowly leaned in close to me and as I placed my hands on the flag, he said these words:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Air Force and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.’
Then in the distance, the rifle detail began their Three-Volley Salute and in just a few short moments I was transported in my mind to all of the honor being shown to my dad.
It’s been a year ago now and my heart fills with such pride and my eyes well with tears as I pause to say one more time, “Thank you, Daddy.”
Thank you for caring.
Thank you for your sacrifice.
Thank you for choosing to be a member of the greatest generation.
I salute you, not just from a grateful nation, but from a grateful daughter.