Father’s Day

by Marianne Richmond on June 15, 2008

I lost my mother on May 24th at 96 and although I started a blog post about her shortly before she passed away, I have not yet gone back to finish it. Most likely that represents some psychological process somewhere between denial and the “magical thinking” found in Joan Didion’s book thanks to CK’s recommendation (which magically came with cookies; thanks, friend)

My parent’s were married for 41 years until at age 61 my father had a heart attack and was gone in an instant.

Their lives for those 41 years were inextricably weaved together and I was only a part of that quilt for 21 years. Yet, through anecdotes, stories, and even the faded B&W photos I thought I had a pretty good idea about the years that I missed. I realize now, I missed quite a bit.

Today is Father’s Day so this post is about my Dad; but its inspiration was found in my mother’s things; in her wallet and safety deposit box to be specific.

Her wallet contained pictures of her grandchildren and two pictures of my Dad. In recent years I had rummaged through her wallet many times looking for her Social Security number, Medicare card or credit card never really paying attention to anything but the item I was seeking.  I had never notice her choice of wallet photos; frankly, I didn’t even know she carried pictures of my Dad.

One of the pictures I was very familiar with; taken shortly before he passed away,  it captured him perfectly and we all had a treasured copy. The other one was taken during WWII and I have no idea, and now will never know, if there is a specific story that goes along with it or if there was a specific reason for its choice. I don’t recall ever seeing the photo before.

The other items were things that I HAD seen before, my Dad’s Bronze Star from WWII and the article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch about his award. What was noteworthy this time for me, was that when I read the article about his Bronze Star it was as if I were reading it for the first time. I thought I had read it but actually, I am still not quite sure if I had ever really read it before or had just seen it. I say this because this time I finally understood it.

My Dad was a supply Sargent in the US Air Force stationed on Guam during the War. He was also one of the most likable guys you would ever meet. He made everyone, including his oldest daughter,  feel that they were the most special person in the world and for years after his death when I would run into someone that knew him I would invariably hear a story about how he had helped them, helped someone in their family or otherwise touched their lives.

For some reason,  I had it in my head that he had gotten the Bronze Star because people, including his commanding officer liked him. I am not sure if this idea didn’t originate from my Dad. I had head him tell stories about how he had been able to “supply” many extraordinary things to his fellow soldiers on Guam: he was able to locate eggs for his unit that had been dining from tin cans and also cases of soft drinks that were unavailable except on the mainland at the time. He even had a side business ON GUAM for heaven sake, selling towels that he had imprinted with the words “Guam” and U.S.A.F.

His whole life, he was the recipient of gifts; sometimes a plate of food, a box of cigars or even a watch that someone used to say “thank you.” I guess I just thought that the Bronze Star fell somewhere into that category. OK, our childhood memories and impressions are often flawed, right?

So as I sat and read the article written by CPL. Wm J Fleischman, from “somewhere in the Marians” on April 6th (no year) I was struck by the headline: “St Louisian, Whose B-29s Never Missed Mission for Parts, Cited.” The article went on to explain that my dad’s job was to track supplies that kept the planes “pounding the Japanese” and that “in over a month not a single plane has missed a mission because it lacked parts.”

I had never thought that being a “supply Sargent” sounded too exciting. Sending airplanes off to fly wartime missions on the other hand had quite a different slant.

Now, my Dad had always been a hero to me. As a little girl, it seemed to me that there was nothing that he couldn’t do. I used to go to his office with him on Saturdays…he owned a building supplies company that he started whe he returned from WWII… and that was the highlight of my week. OK, and part of that was the unlimited candy, Coke, and office supplies that were quite limited at home by my more disciplined Mom.

But reading about his Bronze Star I saw for the first time that at a very young age, my Dad had already made a contribution that really mattered….he was a hero to others besides me. He was a war hero.

I was truly humbled. He was 30 years old and if he never did another thing, his life on earth had already mattered. As I mentioned, he died suddenly and there was no time to say goodbye. I have always regretted that I never had a chance to tell him how much I admired him…both his successes and his incredible perseverance  in the face of adversity.  But it was really not until I found this newspaper description of his Bronze Star, that I really appreciated that this was simply the way he had always lived his life.

Happy Father’s Day…..and if YOUR Dad is your hero, go tell him. Right now. And Tim Russert, what a loss for his father and his son and everyone whose lives he touched.

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