I grew up “in the Navy” because my Father served. As a child, moving every 2-3 years seemed quite normal because I knew nothing else. I still marvel at my friends who have known their best friends since kindergarten or remember all of their teacher’s names. For me attending 9 schools in 12 years seemed ordinary, it’s just the way it was. So no, I don’t remember the name of my best friend in 3rd grade and I remember the name of only 1 teacher. All of this may sound strange to a “civilian” but for me my Father’s decision was formative. The story I’m about to tell did not come from my Father who was very private and, I think now, was embarrassed about his history, instead it was pieced together primarily from information shared by my Aunt , Uncle, Mother and sometimes my cousins who knew more about my Father’s history than my Father ever shared with his own children.
My Father had a difficult start in life, his alcoholic father spent time in the penitentiary and putting a roof over the families head was left to his mother. For several years Dad, his older brother and sister and Mother found shelter at the mercy of one of her friends that managed a government subsidized apartment building. When units were between tenants the manager allowed the family to stay in the vacant apartment until the unit was leased and were then shuffled to the next vacant apartment until the cycled repeated itself. Sadly, Dad’s mother died suddenly when he was 12 years old from an ordinary medical procedure. By this time, his older siblings were grown and out of the house. So, when 6 weeks after his Mother’s death his father remarried, Dad was simply baggage. While I don’t know the facts, I can only image that my Grandfathers actions did not sit well with my Dad and as a result he spent the next 6 years shuttling from one relatives home to another until graduating from High School. The ghosts of my father’s childhood remained with him throughout my father’s life and in hindsight I realize that they both drove him and tortured him. What I know also is that the Navy changed the course of his life forever.
My Father’s graduated from high school nearing the end of WWII as the battle in the pacific still raged. Being essentially homeless and with no direction Dad did what his older brother and countless other young men did upon graduation, he enlisted. Dad was a sailor on a ship in the pacific when nothing short of a miracle happened. The sailors were given the opportunity to take something called the Fleet Exam. I don’t know much about the test but I do know that my Dad, who was a pretty smart guy, did very well and was invited to enter the United States Naval Academy. As I reflect on Dad’s history I imagine that he felt like an imposter among the other midshipmen. Entrance to the Academy is based on academic excellence, athletic prowess and most importantly references from “connected” officials along with a driving desire to attend the prestigious school. Dad, by happen stance, was a pretty good baseball player but landed at the USNA not by his own intention or because he knew the right people, Dad entered the USNA because he performed exceptionally well on a test and said yes to the opportunity.
Dad graduated in the class of 1952 along with a few other notables, the future 39th President of the United State, Jimmy Carter and Astronaut Jim Lovell who commanded the Apollo 13 mission. After graduation my Father left his storied history behind and focused on building a career and a future of his family.
My Father served for 22+ years (including duty in Vietnam) with pride. Love of one’s country and respect for those who serve was a fabric of our childhood. I am a patriot today and always will be. My perspective on the military thought includes its ability to change lives. Today, much of the focus is on the lasting challenges and emotional baggage that affects those who serve. For me however, today it is important to remember those whose lives were transformed by the opportunities offered by serving our country.
Tears roll down my face as I memorize my Father, he served his county well but the country also served him well. The Navy changed my Father’s future in a profound way, I am eternally grateful for the opportunities that the U.S. Navy provided for my Father and in turn for our family. Dad raised 3 daughters, sometimes emotionally stoic as modeled by our Father, but always outgoing, confident and grateful for the opportunities that life presents us. Miss you, Dad.