Thoughts about my father, the veteran, on this 4th of July
I always knew that my father was a veteran. He never told ‘war stories’ or such when we were young, but he was proud of his service. He was especially proud of his little brother, Bill, who was a Captain in the Air Force, who died suddenly of a heart attack while serving in Germany. All I really knew was that dad was in the Army and that he was stationed in Washington State waiting for the invasion of Japan when World War II ended.
One Christmas, my son Nick asked dad about his service since Nick was currently in the Air Force. All of the Spear boys sat on dad’s porch and listened intently to his service story (from the homesick guy singing “I love you truly’ to his revisiting the ‘Bird’s Nest Area’ with mom after their marriage, and finding out that the overwhelming security in the area was due to the production of the atomic bomb.) I recorded about 40 minutes of his stories until the battery on my camera finally died.
This lead Nick to ask Grandpa for a written version for him to read while he was deployed in the Middle East.
One of the few times he spoke about his service was when Col. Paul Tibbets, the man from Quincy who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, visited Quincy and spoke to the Rotary Club. It was an important enough event that I took Nick and Will out of school to hear him and get copies of his book. While waiting to get our books autographed, dad said something to the effect of, “None of us would be here if it weren’t for that man. I probably would have been killed during the invasion of Japan and therefore none of you would have been born!”
This brings up two observations about dad, one well known and one not so well known. The known thought is that July 4 was a close second to Christmas on his list of favorite days. After they moved to their home on Garden Court it actually became July 3, since that was night Quincy Country Club has its fireworks display (Rescheduled this year due to imminent rain. I wonder how mom and dad would have handled that!) It was their annual fireworks party, with them hosting any and all who found their way to their awesome backyard, also known as the 16th fairway. In our minds it was always fitting that his funeral was right before the 4th of July!
The unknown observation was that, even though he often encouraged reluctant veterans and/or their widows to have military rites as part of their committal service, he was himself equally reluctant to have his service honored in such a manner. I can hear him telling others that it didn’t matter that they never ‘saw action’. They still served honorably and were more than entitled to this.
When discussing his own funeral arrangements one day, he downplayed his own service but ultimately left the decision to us. I knew how proud he was and how much he loved this country. It seemed unfathomable to NOT honor his service, especially since one of his grandsons was serving in a war zone at that time. We decided that his oldest son, John, should be presented the flag. He immediately turned and presented it to Nick’s wife, Sarah, feeling that the flag should go to the one in the family following dad’s service. This still makes my eyes water! (Thanks to Will Spear for capturing the moment on video!)
The point of this long, convoluted story is this. Anyone who has served honorably is more than entitled to this show of respect, performed by one of the local veteran’s organizations as well as active duty soldiers, seamen or airmen. You do not have to serve overseas to qualify. Keep in mind that if all our servicemen and women were overseas, who would be handling the logistics, training, supplying or countless other support jobs here that are necessary for our military to be successful? And to those who think that it’s too sad hearing the shots followed by taps, I can only say that I think it’s okay to cry at your dad’s funeral. I quote Rabbi Earl Grollman often in saying that, “When someone is born we rejoice. When someone is married we celebrate. But when someone dies we try to act like nothing happened!”
Have a wonderful 4th of July holiday, but also take a minute also to pause and think of the veterans in your family. If they are still around, tell them ‘Thank you’. We all must remember the sacrifices made by generations of veterans. Freedom was not given to this country. Freedom was earned by the patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence, and by the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.