Dad loved Japan. The architecture, the culture, the people. When he had time to himself he explored Tokoy and its environs. And, being an intelligent and good-looking kid, he managed to arrange some pleasant duties among the grind of life as a PFC in an occupied foreign nation. He joined a USO troop and toured the country playing a small role in the play "Brother Rat". He had fine manners and knew how to dance and wear a tuxedo properly, so he was tapped to serve as the date to some function or other with the Swedish Ambassador's daughter.
Dad was in and out of the army in his twenties. He would serve his hitches in the army, and greatly enjoyed them, even when he had KP duty. Back in the civilian world, he appears to have supported himself at times as a musician in New York City. He was a New Yorker, born and bred, and a magnificent pianist. When he was twelve years old his parents bought him a baby grand and music lessions, but he was largely self-taught and though he could read music, he played mostly by ear. Throughout his twenties he played piano in NYC and took college courses and somewhere along the line he met and befriended some of the young Beats. But he always ended up re-upping for another hitch in the army, and then another. The army drew him. It gave him structure and brotherhood and seemed to serve as a parent in absentia of his deceased father.
In the army, he was always on the move. He served in Korea during the Korean war. He was posted to most of the continental United States at one point or another. He studied French at the army's language academy in Monterey, CA, and then was posted to France and Germany in the mid-to-late 1950's. He had training duties and clerical duties and paymaster duties. Wherever he was posted, he explored the place, the people and the architecture and the culture. In France in the early 1960's, he was instrumental in organizing the great Aerospace exposition.
Somewhere along the line he began writing for the army's newspapers and magazines. By the mid 1960's he was a sergeant posted to the Pentagon and writing speeches for a colonel. He met my mother in Washington, DC. She was the niece of a Navy Commander (my great-great aunt) who was friends with his widowed mother. Dad and mom "met cute" as I always say; Dad arrived for dinner with his mother and the Navy Commander just as my mother was leaving for a date with an Annapolis boy. Army won. Dad and Mom married in 1966.
In 1967 I was born, and a few weeks later Dad went to Vietnam. He served as an army reporter and editor, often near or at the front lines. Not long after he returned, he was promoted to Sergeant-Major, the highest non-com rank in the army, and not long after that, we--Dad, Mom, my baby brother and I--flew to Darmstadt, Germany where Dad was editor and reporter for the army's "Stars and Stripes Magazine" until 1972.
My brother and I remember Germany as our childhood home, because that was where we were toddlers, and where our earliest memories were formed. That was also where our baby sister was born. In 1972, Dad finally left the army. When that hitch ended, he retired, and we all flew back to Massachusetts, settling in a beautiful little rural village within a half-hour's drive of Mom's parents.
Dad took up a series of jobs and projects then. He always worked hard and made sure we had a nice roof over our head, and food on the table. He worked in retail, as a security guard, as a debt collector, as a substitute teacher, as a reporter for the local paper--so many different jobs, but always gainful employment. He played piano at restaurants sometimes, too, to make ends meet for his wife and three children. He completed his undergraduate degree, too, and he went on to earn his law degree.
But whatever he did, nothing was ever like being in the army. Being a soldier had been his career, his vocation, in a way that nothing in civilian life could be. In the early 1980's he returned to active duty for just one year, working at the Pentagon to assist with a retiree program championed by then-President Ronald Reagan. Dad's year at the Pentagon meant lean times and belt-tightening for Mom and us kids up in Massachusetts. Mom returned to work at the phone company to help make ends meet and keep that roof over our head and food on our table. She had been working at the phone company when Dad met her in DC.
After that final one-year assignment, Dad never returned to active duty. He retained his love for the army, however, until his passing in 2011. He subscribed to Army Digest. He marched in every Memorial Day and Veterans' Day parade. He kept his uniforms in good order, and was proud to be able to fit into them when he marched in the parades. Of all the jobs he ever had, and all the degrees he earned, that is how I think he will be remembered most--as a patriot, as a soldier, and, yes, as a musician. Service to his country, and music, were his true callings.
On Memorial Days we miss him keenly. He hasn't been gone quite three years yet. It still doesn't quite register that he won't be dusting off his uniform, and walking in the parade. We three children all live in California. Mom and Dad, having retired to Maine, would send us photos every summer--Dad in his uniform, Dad marching in the parade. Mom took a photo of him in his uniform that last Memorial Day, in May 2011, but he wasn't strong enough to walk in the parade. They sent us the photo, not mentioning that he hadn't marched; they didn't want to worry us. By November, he would be gone.
His father had served in the military, and my mother's father and uncle, and mother's great aunt, and later my brother would serve. We've always been patriotic on both sides of the family. On this day, I thank and honor all men and women, family and friends and strangers, who follow that calling to serve our country, in war and in peace. They make our dreams possible. They make our freedom possible. God bless them, and God bless my father, on this Memorial Day. I can still hear Dad playing the see him marching in his uniform.
LJL, May 26, 2014