I attended a military funeral today. It was as beautiful and moving as you would expect, only more so for me; the memorial service was for my dad. I had the privilege of saying a few words about him, and while it seemed like a simple task, it proved a challenge to find the right words to honor his service and his life. The following missive captures those words.
It seems that Daddy’s life was defined by the Marines, both at the beginning and the end. His active military service was extraordinary in many ways.
Extraordinary at the beginning, starting with Grandma and Grandpa signing a letter saying he was 18 when he was only 17 so he could join the Marine Reserves. Extraordinary in that he almost didn’t make his appointment to report to his outfit.
At his going away party, Dad and his friends plotted some excitement to liven up the evening; they would stage a fake shootout in front of one the local theaters. Carrying Grandpa’s pistol loaded with blanks, the 2 cars full of teenagers pulled up in front of the Majestic Theater where hundreds of people were lined up to see the gangster expose, “711 Ocean Drive”. The kids piled out of the cars, one yelling, “There you are, you dirty squealer!” at my dad, who then fell to the street in dramatic fashion after the gun went off. You can imagine the chaos and the screaming from the crowd, unaware of the ruse. What the pranksters had not counted on was 2 officers working the crowd, and the officers quickly closed in on the scene in the street. Busted, my dad and his cohorts needed to post $800 bond for the charge of carrying a pistol. I’m sure Grandpa wasn’t too happy to get that call! I assume Grandpa paid the bond, since Daddy joined his outfit the following Saturday. That story pretty much captures the essence of my dad – consummate jokester and story teller.
Extraordinary at the end of his active service, when he returned from his tour in Korea after fighting in the Korean war. Daddy was one of only a few remarkable Marines to return from the battle at the Chosin Reservoir – The Frozen Chosin – the Chosin Few. He received numerous ribbons and awards for his service including the Purple Heart.
My parents met years after Dad had left the Marines, and they had 4 kids. Dad still continued to do extraordinary things – like winning the Grand Prize at the Cub Scout Father-Son Cake Bake contest with my brother Jimmy in 1969. (Their winning entry was a cake modeled after the aircraft carrier USS Freedom, and my mom still remembers having to bake endless cakes to put that thing together.) Dad also attended a Girl Scout Father-Daughter ice cream social, where he and I won the 3 legged race. I’m sure Dad wouldn’t consider those feats extraordinary. He’d rather I tell how he owned and operated several tire stores, served as president of the Woodlands Golf Association, or even how he was on the sidelines for a Super Bowl.
Dad rarely if ever discussed the war while I was growing up, but after he retired and started serving with the Marine Corps League, he opened up and shared some of his stories from Korea. I probably heard the Tootsie Roll story 10 or more times over the last few years, describing how the Marines found cases of Tootsie Rolls in the frozen landscape of the Chosin Reservoir. With their rations frozen and no way to heat them, those Tootsie Rolls kept the Marines from starving, and that candy was an integral part of a story the Houston Chronicle wrote about my dad 10 years ago for Veteran’s Day. The same paper that reported on his prank with his friends 54 years earlier in 1948.
Like I said – extraordinary.
I’ve only just started reading the stacks of letters Daddy sent home while in Korea, (Grandma saved them all) and I’m looking forward to learning even more about him through his writing. Knowing the Korean war had such an impact on my Dad’s life has stirred a strong interest to learn more about its history.
Daddy fought a lengthy battle with emphysema, and I was blessed to spend some time with him before he passed on November 5th. He had quite the welcoming committee to greet him at the Pearly Gates, not the least of which was my little sister who died in 1989. She was always Daddy’s little girl.
My dad’s service both in the war and with the Marine Corps League after his retirement makes him a hero. He was part of a generation of men who loved their country, enough to fight for it even on foreign shores. We still have such heroes, and I hope you will let them know who much you appreciate their service when they cross your path. Our gratitude should be evident, and our debt to those men is immense.
Love you, Dad. Semper Fi.
** Tootsie Rolls are still an active sponsor of the Marines, and additional stories of how they saved Marines in Korea can be found at the following links: