My Dad was born in 1923. He was the 3rd child, and the oldest boy. He had one younger brother and two older sisters. He grew up in California and Washington States. He had jobs like being a hired hand in an apple orchard. I think he swept floors at one point. He wasn’t royalty by anyone’s standards. I’d say that his upbringing was pretty normal for the times.
I sometimes ask my Dad to tell me stories about when he was a kid. I get all sorts of crazy tales. Riding his bike down the biggest hill in town. Shocking people by hooking up a coil to the frame of his car and waiting for people to bump into it. Running away from home for a whole summer to work the next town down the road, only to come back home for school. All those stories bring a smile to his face. He rarely tells one without laughing.
The stories suddenly dry up around 1941. He would have been 18 years old at the time, and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. On December 8th, the United States of America officially joined World War 2. It wasn’t long after that my Dad joined the Navy.
He and many of his friends. Not all of them made it back.
There are very few stories from that time of his life. I know he was stationed in the Philippines for at least part of his stint. I know he was on some of the naval aircraft that flew in combat during that time. I know he was on at least two aircraft that were shot down. He also was a aircraft mechanic for at least part of it. If he talks about these years, it’s rarely with a smile on his face. Quite often, he has to pause when he remembers a particular individual. More stories than not have tragic endings.
This year, my Dad will be 89 years old, and to this day those memories bring him sadness the likes of which I have never known, and hope never to understand.
What I do know is this. Tonight, when I tucked my own two sons into bed, warm, safe, and secure, I owe my Dad and thousands more individuals like him a debt of gratitude that can never be paid.
All I can do is say “Thank you” for all that you’ve given. Thank you for keeping my family safe and free. We don’t say it nearly enough.