Sunday, Sept. 20, was a day laden with memories and yearning for simpler times.
Throughout the day, I reminded myself it was my father’s 100th birthday. The eldest of three boys born to a World War I veteran and a strong-willed mother, he was part of that Greatest Generation that survived the Depression and was tried by fire in World War II.
Prosperity ended in 1929. When my grandfather lost work as a fuel-oil deliveryman for Standard Oil, everyone in the family — including my father, who was still quite young — pitched in and sacrificed for others.
Drawing upon the family’s agrarian roots in a small city, the family took advantage of the lack of zoning enforcement and kept livestock on the rather large lot where their Cape Cod-style house stood. My father learned to milk cows, a chore before he went to school and after he came home, as well as on weekends.
Money was scarce then, even after my grandfather became a cook in a veterans hospital about 25 miles away from home. While still going to school and milking, my father worked as a caddy at a nearby golf course, carrying clubs for those who could afford to play the game.
When my father was 16, he joined the Tennessee National Guard.
The day he enlisted was unforgettable: May 6, 1937, the same day the Hindenburg, Germany’s luxury airship, crashed and burned at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Thirty-six people died in the disaster.
My father liked the military, and he made a career of it.
He also dropped out of high school, but not before meeting and courting the girl he would later marry.
Highlights of his Army career included joining Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army for the invasion of Germany in 1945.
As a truck driver, his work was to pick up battle-damaged tanks and other vehicles and move them to places where they could be repaired or scrapped for spare parts.
One of the horrific memories he shared was the smell of burnt flesh inside tanks hit by enemy shells. Tank crewmen were often trapped inside and burned to death. That was something he could not forget.
When Germany surrendered, my father was one of millions of Allied soldiers occupying the defeated nation.
Dad later spent 18 months in Korea, the Forgotten War. He was first sergeant of a truck company that hauled ammunition and other supplies to soldiers on the front lines and brought back wounded GIs when there were more casualties than ambulances.
My father retired from the Army in 1965, leaving as a master sergeant.
He later worked as an insurance agent, and he enjoyed golf and woodworking.
My father died at 75 shortly before Thanksgiving 1995. It does not seem like that long ago.
I sometimes wonder what past events Dad saw or relived in his final comatose hours.
Did he think about his days as a football player in high school?
Did he think about his milking chores?
Did he once again see Gen. Patton up close?
Did he shudder about what were supposed to be roads on the craggy slopes of mountains in Korea, where a wrong move could be fatal?
Did he recall working with my mother as a lab partner in their high-school biology class?
As I think about my father, I am saddened to realize I probably do not have his character and grit.
In their desire to provide for their children what they did not have, that Greatest Generation probably spoiled us, their offspring, and we do not fully appreciate their sacrifices.
We also do not fully appreciate the country that they built and bequeathed to us. They left us a legacy that so many are now trying to tear down and burn down.