He was a part of the Greatest Generation. Born in 1930 to poor parents in northern Alabama at the beginning of the Depression, Daddy did not have an easy life.
The oldest of five children, he always worked – through school, college, married life, the Navy and then married life with children.
Daddy was 21 years old and had already married the love of his life when he enlisted in the Navy. He felt it was his duty to serve and was promptly shipped off to San Diego for basic training.
He didn’t know how to swim but the Navy taught him. They threw him into the water and said sink or swim. Daddy quickly learned to swim.
When basic training had been completed, Daddy was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia to join the crew of the USS Sierra. The Sierra was a Dixie Class Destroyer Tender. Designated the flagship of Commander, Destroyer Flotilla 4 with home port in Norfolk, the ship’s main purpose was to provide maintenance support to a flotilla of destroyers and other small war ships. Daddy was trained and served as DN, Dental Technician. Even the crew members of destroyers need to have cavities filled and dental mishaps repaired while at sea.
When the ship left port, it stayed at sea for six months at a time. Fortunately for my mom, my oldest sister was born while Daddy was in Norfolk and not sailing the wide open seas.
During his tour of duty, Daddy was fortunate to visit a pre-Castro Cuba, Haiti and other far flung ports in the world. The Sierra was deployed during the Korean War with Daddy on deck to serve.
Any spare time at sea Daddy spent tooling leather. He was actually pretty talented. I always thought he was an artist trapped in a salesman’s body.
His naval service did not define his life, as it does for career military men. Once Daddy served this predetermined number of years, he did not reenlist. He accepted an Honorable Discharge and returned to his beloved Alabama homeland and his family.
The Navy, the Sierra and Korea were not topics that Daddy readily discussed. I cannot recall ever hearing him talk about any of it. I am sad to say, I also did not ask questions about his time in the Navy. And for that, I will be forever sad.
At Thanksgiving last year, Mama and Daddy went to visit Georgia National Cemetery, a new military property near their home outside of Atlanta. Once Daddy saw it, he decided he would be buried there; Mama too. Georgia National Cemetery is a beautiful, sprawling property of 775 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia overlooking Lake Allatoona and the valley below.
When Daddy passed away June 11, 2008, Mama chose to have the Naval emblem embroidered on the inside of his casket. For the visitation hours, an American flag was, by tradition, draped and ruffled at the foot end of the casket. Per military protocol, there were three folds in the flag.
At the cemetery, his funeral was one with full military honors. The Naval Hymn was played. Taps was played by a lone trumpeter from the Navy. Its haunting melody traveled mournfully across the mountain top. A twenty-one gun salute, by Naval veterans, was fired off in his honor. I wasn’t prepared for how each round fired pierced my heart.
I was awed by the exacting precision of the two naval servicemen who folded the flag under which Daddy had laid.
Nor was I prepared for the wave of emotion as Mama was presented with the flag that had graced his casket. The Naval man approached and knelled on bended knee and said, “On behalf of the President of the United States and the Chief of Naval Operations, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s service to this Country and a grateful Navy.”
The scenery is beautiful with the leaves changing colors.
The rows are precisely in line.
The grounds immaculate.
And Daddy is forever resting in Section 7C, Site 594.
Today marks the five month anniversary of Daddy’s passing.
Today is also Veteran’s Day. I can see all of this in my mind’s eye. The Georgia National Cemetery is ablaze with color. Not just from the fall leaves, but with all the American flags flying honoring the memory of every soul now at rest within its gates. And today, there is an American flag at Daddy’s granite marker.
Veteran’s Day used to be just another day on my calendar. From now on, it is one more opportunity to remember and celebrate Daddy’s life.