My father once told me that he didn’t think it would be a bad thing if all young men were required to serve a few years in the military. “It made me a man,” he said. “It taught me how to be responsible, disciplined and get the job done.”
I don’t know if it really was a result of his years in the military and his time spent as an aircraft mechanic in the Korean Conflict, but by my definition he certainly is and has always been “a man”. I don’t remember him complaining about his lot in his life. He didn’t spend any time bemoaning what could have been or what dreams he never got to realize because of the paths he chose. And now that I’m a mother with grown children of my own, I know there were sacrifices he made for the sake of his family. There always are. He just never made any of us feel like he’d paid a price to be our rock. I never doubted he would be there for us, and he always was.
I don’t know the full price he paid – the emotional scars he still carries with him – from his days in the war, but the price was higher than he showed. Now 80 years old, he rarely, if ever, talked about his military service when we were young. Born and raised in rural Mississippi, Dad said he chose to enlist in the Air Force because his options for employment were so limited where he lived. His first choice was to train as a tail gunner, and I think all of us are glad he was instead placed in training to become an aircraft mechanic. He once mentioned that he later learned that the survival rate for tail gunners stationed fighting in Korea was measured in months, not years. But being a mechanic was still no picnic. Stationed behind front lines, he worked night and day to repair damaged aircraft in the middle of a jungle with nightly bombing raids that often left my father taking cover. To this day, he hates the sound of fireworks, saying he heard enough of that noise in Korea to last a lifetime.
He completed his enlistment in the 60’s while stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he met my mother who was then working as a receptionist for the Air Force. He shifted to civil service and continued working as a mechanic, eventually becoming the supervisor over the experimental air craft division at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, where he finally retired in the late 80’s. Because of the secretive nature of his work, he never really talked about what he did. When he came home from work at night, he was just Dad, the man who fixed everything we managed to break during the day and the man who spent his weekends nurturing his garden and grape arbor.
There were plenty of times I took my dad and his service to our country for granted. It was just who Dad was. But as I watch him become more frail, facing the sunset of life, I am more grateful than ever to have had a father who served his country with pride and honor. I may not be his little pony tailed girl anymore, but he is much more my hero today than he was then. We spent yesterday with my dad, and as I watched him smiling, surrounded by a noisy household of children and grandchildren, I felt a deep gratitude for the values he not only taught me but lived.
So today on Veteran’s Day, 2012, I honor my father along with all of the men and women who have served our country.