Still he stares out from under the dress army cap, his clear blue eyes twin sturdy sentinels against the strong tanned face. Up there on the book case, right next to the photo of Gramps in his World War I aviator's head gear and jacket.
Blind since childhood in one eye and deaf in one ear, he tried once, twice, thrice, to join the army, only to be rejected each time. Though Americans were dying bloody deaths all over the world in the early 1940s, we weren’t yet desperate enough to have to take men with one good eye and ear.
Finally, after a year of bitter, tearful frustration, he sauntered into a recruiting station one day and, when the sight test came, deftly “switched” from his bad eye to his good, just in the nick of time. Or was it? He ever after suspected that the physician recognized him from previous attempts and let him pass through just because the nineteen-year-old wanted so badly to go do his part for his country—his country being his family and friends and the civilization that had given him all he had.
Perhaps you have heard some of the names. Far away names to us, as we watch our ESPN and play our Nintendo. Titles of John Wayne movies and destinations of special discount travel packages. New Guinea. Leyte Gulf. Tarawa.
In other old pictures you can see the thick full head of curly blond hair with which he left the States. In the pictures after the war, he usually wears his Stetson, to cover the pate that was bald when he returned four years later.
But unlike many of his fellow soldiers and high school buddies, he did come back. To America’s new morning. While other nations dug out from rubble, America stood tall and colossal, the savior of Christian civilization. Winner of “The Good War.”
He married a tall, raven-haired beauty working at American Airlines. He sired two sons. And he never spoke of The Good War.
He began to build his own furniture business in Dallas’s Lakewood Shopping Center, right across the parking lot from the Lakewood Theatre. And he built a new home on the new street of Westbrook just north of White Rock Lake. He could see clear to Northwest Highway from his back yard.
Alas, not every American that the Japanese, Germans, and Italians killed died on a Pacific beach or in a European wood. One bright morning in the morning of his—and America’s—life, he walked to the bathroom and fell, stricken. In the presence of his wife and two-year-old son (his six-week-old son was asleep in the crib), his life ebbed away. She remembers him trying to speak, but he could not.
He was thirty-five years old, tall, and barrel chested. And the doctors said that had they learned earlier of the importance of limiting fat in one’s diet, he would have lived a longer life. But they admitted that yes, World War II and those beaches and the loss of those young friends took him too, as they took tens of thousands of others of that generation before their time. A different generation, that.
So who was he? “Johnny.” A handsome soldier in a yellowed portrait. A flowing pen addressing letters with unpronounceable Pacific postmarks to his dad, the “Maestro.”
A “good, tough businessman,” according to his attorney and estate executor, Ed Yates of Dallas.
A father who bought an unusually high amount of life insurance on himself which helped fund a college education twenty years later for his first son—and ran out the week the boy graduated with a journalism degree.
He wore a Stetson and liked a good Cuban cigar.
He was a husband who gave his wife the happiness in less than six years of marriage few experience in a lifetime.
And he was the man who pointed the stars out to me, though I cannot remember that now.
He was gone too soon and I have wished so many times I could just have known him for a little while, known my father, this man whom everyone that knew him says was such a fine man. But he was gone in God’s time.
Friend, don’t let your parents get away too soon without your saying what I never can seem to say the way I should, and want to, to my mother. And what I never got to say to him.
I love you Mom. And I love you Dad.