Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Vaterans Day 2010

My father is buried at the Rock Island Arsenal National Cemetery – not because he was a great hero – but because when his country called, he went to war (or “conflict”, as it is officially known).

Dad enlisted in the army in 1947 at age 18 and was taught the cooper’s trade (wooden barrel making). On March 30, 1949 he got a 3-day pass and hitchhiked home from Fort Riley, Kansas to Muscatine, Iowa on the back of an Indian motorcycle. On April 1st he married my mom and on April 2nd he hitchhiked back to Fort Riley. Some time in1950 he got his honorable discharge with the rank of corporal. I was born in March and lived the first month or two of my life at Fort Riley.

On June 25, 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea and in 1951 Dad was called back to active duty, promoted to sergeant and sent to Korea as an army engineer. I can’t tell you anything about his war (excuse me, “conflict”) experiences, because in all of my life he was never willing to share them with me. Oh, yeah – I know how he got the tattoo in Tokyo on leave and a little bit about the P-51 Mustang that crashed at the airfield he was building – but nothing about his own experiences.

In the ‘70s Dad joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I suspect that he did that initially as another excuse to drink beer. Somewhere in the ‘80s he got passionate about veterans’ affairs – especially about how shabbily Viet Nam veterans were being treated, so he became an activist and eventually a grass roots lobbyist.

Late in 1997 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. When I was a kid he smoked three packs of Chesterfields a day and as a heating and air conditioning contractor had sucked up asbestos fibers for 30 years. It was not a surprising diagnosis.

He had retired to the Pacific Northwest where my brothers live and in 1998 I went to spend my last Father’s Day with him. The second day of my visit my brother, Jeff, and I took Dad to the VA hospital in Portland for a checkup. We sat there as the doctor reaffirmed that, yes, it was terminal and asked a few questions to determine if Dad was feeling suicidal. “Don’t worry, I ain’t killin’ myself.” We got some prescriptions and proceeded to the pharmacy.

The waiting area was packed because there was only one pharmacist on duty. We sat there among men and women who had served in World War II, Korea and Viet Nam. After an hour his name was called, we grabbed his medicine and walked out. Dad was livid – not so much because of his own wait but because of the overall situation. He said, “Those poor bastards shouldn’t have to wait like that. They deserve better.”

Before I left Portland I arranged for what became known as Dad’s “farewell tour”. I flew him home to Davenport and we visited all of his favorite dives and saw all of his old friends. We also went to the Rock Island Arsenal and made his burial arrangements. His last dinner before flying back to Oregon was at the Bettendorf VFW hall, laughing and reminiscing with all of his old comrades in arms.

The next spring my brothers flew back with his ashes and he was laid to rest at the Arsenal. The VFW came and fired the salute and handed Jeff an American flag.

Fast forward to 2009. Mark Rowell was my best man when Cindy and I got married. I have known his son, Mathew since he was tiny. In July, 2009 Mark and his wife, Tammy, were notified that Matt had been seriously wounded in Afghanistan. The initial diagnosis was that he might lose a leg. Blessedly, that did not come to pass.

American freedom is not a “happy accident”. Every generation men and women sacrifice, fight – and die – to preserve it. Please – on this “Armistice Day” (as Dad always called it), take a moment to honor those who have preserved our freedoms.

In honor of Sgt Arthur L Brown Jr. I miss you, Dad.

2 comments:

Harold said...

Jim:

Your "Veterans Day 2010" really struck home. What a well written, poignant piece about your father and his service to country. I have enjoyed reading your well informed wrestling material for the past few years.

Dick Trotter

Jim Brown said...

Dick,

Thank you so much for your kind words.