My father was a complicated man. He was born in New York City, in Brooklyn, in a tough, poor neighborhood. His father died early in his life, cirrhosis of the liver, drank himself to death. As a teenager, my father got involved with an unsavory group and to escape he enlisted in the Marine Corps. The way he told it, “It was enlist or get killed” He chose the Marines for they were “bad ass” and he felt he could save face with the gang he left. He didn’t meet the minimum age requirement, but his mother lied for him swearing he was of age.
He loved the Marines. He found a family there, people he could depend upon, three square meals, people who “had his back”. He loved the routines, the order, the challenge, the camaraderie. He found purpose and believed wholeheartedly in the mission of the Marines. He could sing the Marine Corps hymn by heart and every November 10th he celebrated the anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps.
My father served in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. He never shared much of what went on no matter how many times we asked. When I informed him I visited Da Nang and HoiAn in Vietnam, he let slip some good times there swimming in a river, each man taking turns manning the machine gun to keep them safe. My father was a good Marine…he retired a First Sergeant, as far as he could go as an enlisted man.
At home, I think my father wished he could run the family as he did his platoon. But families don’t always work that way. His three children didn’t all fall in line. We certainly didn’t have a “Leave it to Beaver” family. Dad struggled with the concept of family, but I know he tried his best. And considering where he came from, I’d say he did alright. I know he loved each and every one of us, though he showed it differently. And he was married to the same woman for 65 years. That says something.
Some of the best times (and worst) was when we were all crammed into whatever car we owned, ready for another move. Dad always said he had “wanderlust” and he loved to move. He believed in marathon driving….we would take off early in the morning and dad would drive all day. We would stop for quick meal breaks. If there was a “point of interest” dad would stop and say, “There’s the Painted Desert…take a good look, you have 5 minutes.” and back on the road we would go. Instead of stopping for the night, dad would throw us some blankets and we would sleep in the seats as he drove all night, followed by another full day of driving and then, finally, a night in a motel. We criss-crossed the country several times this way as we went from one assignment to the next. My sisters and I would argue like crazy over who got stuck in the middle. I think I averaged one school per grade level….four different high schools. Perhaps some of his wanderlust fell upon me as I definitely have the travel bug. I think a small part of his wanting to be buried at Arlington was so we would all get another opportunity to take a trip.
My sisters and I have a lifetime of crazy stories…some hilarious, others heartbreaking and sad. But somehow we all made it through…our souls and psyche filled with cuts, scrapes, bruises and scars….most of which have healed…but also smiles and laughter, and dare I say, love.
Parents bring you into this world, they protect you and keep you safe. They teach you as much as they can. They are always there, even as you grow into adulthood. It is difficult to comprehend when they depart…and then, one day they are gone. As much as my father and I butted heads, I miss him. I loved him. I wanted to do him proud.
He was buried at Arlington February 6, 2018. The service was one of honor and respect. He received a 21 gun salute and a playing of taps. Six Marine body bearers carried my father to his final resting spot. The folding of the flag was like a ballet, each movement choreographed, precise, practiced. My father is at rest now with the family I believe he felt most at home with, he is now forever surrounded by his brothers and sisters in arms. Semper Fi, Dad….rest in peace.
I miss you Dad.
Arlington…a place of remembrance and honor. Everyone should visit once in their life.
The Tomb of the Unknown is so moving. It is guarded 24/7….through all weather…snow, heat, rain, bone chilling temperatures…doesn’t matter, a sentry will be there. They walk back and forth on a black mat….21 steps forward, stop and turn toward the tomb, wait 21 seconds. Turn toward the direction to walk, place rifle on shoulder away from the tomb, wait 21 seconds, repeat. Over and over again. It is a very solemn location. You feel honored to be there.
Kennedy’s Gravesite. Designed by Jacqueline Kennedy, she insisted upon an eternal flame, similar to the one at the Tomb of the Unknown in France. JFK and Jacqueline are buried here. To the right is a small marker with the inscription; Daughter August 23, 1956. This is the grave of their little daughter, still born. It is said Jacqueline wanted to name her Arabella. To the left is another small marker, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy August 7, 1963 – August 9, 1963. The Kennedy family had their share of heartache and tragedy. Nearby are the simple gravesites of Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy. Marked only with a white cross and a small grave marker showing the name.
The Marine Corps War Memorial