Memorial Day: What a Child Remembers

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fighter pilot F100
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Proud to serve his country, my father was a quiet man more prone to holding his patriotism and service in his heart than wearing it on his sleeve. Flash, pretense, and braggadocio had no place in his character, nor in his life. I can still hear him chiding my know-it-all teenage self, “Don’t let your alligator mouth out talk your tadpole butt.” He was good at getting straight to the point.

As I think of him daily and especially on this Memorial Day, I also embrace my family, my mother, sister and brother, who surrounded him with love and admiration, and allowed him to serve with distinction as he did. We were a team, his team.

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My first recollection of the seriousness of my father’s job came in first grade, a memory burned into my head as certain as an ember would do the same on my skin. A fellow pilot in my Dad’s squadron bailed out of his jet over the eastern Atlantic, closer to Africa and Europe than the shores of the United States. I knew to keep quiet, and I listened to adult conversations weighted in anguish and gravity never realized under our roof. It was the first time I really thought of a plane falling out of the sky and the pilot descending into the vastness of the open ocean. And fighter jets at that time were buckets of bolts—mechanical, streamlined and shiny, but basically a huge jet engine strapped to wing, a cockpit and a prayer. Standing on the flight line, I once thought my head would explode from the mere level of roar and vibration of a taxiing F-100.

Mortality introduced itself to me that day. I never had really thought about death, never visualized my father’s plane falling out of the sky. The conversations, speculation, door knocks, and phone calls never seemed to end—grief consumed everyone on the base. Finally, word came that a search plane had spotted the pilot, my mom and dad’s friend, on a life raft. It terrified me to think of this man I knew, drifting in a life raft, all alone in the middle of the ocean. I couldn’t sleep that night, my active imagination no friend to me at that time. The next morning sobering news came; the pilot had not survived the night at sea. That’s when my memory kind of goes blur. There was crying. There was anger. There was disbelief, and then I remember little else. Perhaps I didn’t want to believe this could ever be the outcome, that all lives could be saved and that flying a shell of metal at supersonic speeds was a safe as driving a car or walking to the playground. From that day on, I never stopped worrying about my father.

On this day, this Memorial Day, let’s remember the men and women who protect our freedoms, our lives and our loves, and the families who keep them strong. My father never glorified war, and it fact he once told me that the best war was the one prevented. He never talked about his time served in Vietnam, brushes with death, or the lost lives of his friends and fellow servicemen, but he never forgot them either. He honored them through example and through wearing the uniform, a uniform he wore the day I said goodbye to him for the very last time.

We love you, Dad, and thank you for your sacrifice and service to our nation.

fighter pilot F100

28 COMMENTS

  1. wow…he sure was a handsome guy! my brother got killed in a car wreck right after he came home from vietnam. i was so happy he made it through nam and then he got killed a mile away from our house.

    • Jaz, what a tragic ending, I’m so sorry. A heartbreak of reminder that we should not take life for granted. Again, my deepest sympathy.

  2. What a wonderful piece of writing, Tom! And more importantly — what a beautiful tribute. I love this story; can visualize it all and it brings such powerful emotion and gratitude to the surface. Thanks for sharing this. A belated Happy Memorial Day from afar. – Richele & Tor

  3. Your father was a hero and deserves this loving tribute to his greatness as a man and to his faithful service to his country. It sounds as though you grew up in a happy, happy home, Tom. My father was killed in Italy fighting in WWll so I am very familiar with the sacrifices that were made in the name of freedom.

    • I’m so sorry Sandra, that must have been a devastating loss at such an early age. My uncle fought in Europe in WWII, and luckily made it home, but the tales of sacrifice halt me cold. Here’s to your father’s valor and memory, and you keeping it alive.

  4. thank you Tom for this beautiful story honoring your father and all those who serve on behalf of our country, our freedom, and for capturing a child’s first realization of risk and death and our parents’ vulnerability to it. Your Dad would be so proud of you; he lives on in you. God Bless him and you and all your family.

  5. What a beautiful story,Tom, and what a great tribute to the service men and women who protect us every day, and make all things possible for America. God Bless You All!!!

  6. Beautifully written Tom! Memorial Day is always a somber day for me too as I am a Viet Nam War Gold Star Wife.

    • My deep condolences Margaret. I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through with such a loss. My father had some near misses, and that was traumatic enough, but of course he didn’t even tell us about those until years later. I fear I search for words here. I am so sorry.

  7. Your story is deep and profound. This ultimate sacrifice is what Memorial Day is about.
    Such a heavy price for you and your family to pay. I am thankful for his service and for you sharing your heartfelt story with us. Thank you Tom.

  8. Hello, delightful reading many of your stories and replies.. I found your site via ( killing black berry bushes ) unfortunately I have no access to any brush hogs nor tractors or other machinery- I do not approve of poisons and physically should not be out there whacking away with my machete like I did when I was younger- ( I enjoyed the stories about growing older – I have just turned older recently ) So, I was wondering if you have heard any other ideas for eradicating these evil invaders. Currently they are way over my head in height and are rooting atop my drain-field, soon I may have more troubles than just removing bushes… PS they are also invading the space around an old cherry tree in the yard – I may ask you pruning questions in the future as I have very little knowledge of how to care for it. Thank you
    melody

    • Hi Melody, I have a couple ideas for you, based on your comments, but not sure these are any easier on the gardener. 😉 There’s a product called blackberry and bush blocker, which is a vinegar-base spray (a byproduct of wine production) that changes the pH of the garden soil and slowly discourages brush growth. I’ve not used it but here’s more info: http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/homegarden/article/From-the-Garden-New-vinegar-based-sprays-safely-1056568.php
      You may also consider hiring someone to cut down the brambles over your drainfield and than laying a commercial gauge weed blocker ground cloth over the area and then adding thick mulch on top. Hope this helps. Good luck!

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