(Author’s note: A reader of my book, A TIME TO LIE, asked if John Drake’s dad was actually my dad. The answer is yes and no. Drake’s dad is “modeled” after my dad, but his dad was from a different generation and a different war. I thought about Brokaw's book, "The Greatest Generation". In America's history, there has been many great generations starting with the Revolutionary War of Independence. It's not my place to decide which generation was the greatest. During the American Civil War, thousands gave the greatest sacrifice to ensure the freedom of all. In each generation, Americans make the sacrifice to ensure freedom whether it be at home or abroad. Each generation has veterans who have served their country. Please take into consideration their experiences before judging them.)
The one from Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation" who had the greatest impact on shaping who I am today was in my opinion the greatest generation of one. Who is this person? It was my dad. Rest in peace, Dad.
The Greatest Generation of One
Notice I didn’t use the term father? There’s a reason for that. He didn’t like being called father. He wanted to be called dad. I never understood his reasoning until my latter years. I’ll explain later. Now I’ll give a little background on Dad.
His formative years were during “The Great Depression”. Because of the dire circumstances of his family, he quit school in the ninth grade. He put cardboard inside his shoes because the soles had holes. He couldn’t take the criticism of being so poor.
Dad enlisted in the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1938. He lied about his age to join and be able to travel outside of Kentucky. He was shipped from Kentucky to the western states stringing wire and setting poles for the National Park Service. Keeping a stipend, the rest of his pay was sent back home to be saved. When his enlistment was complete in 1940, his family asked him to return to Kentucky. He was told a job awaited his return. Upon arriving home, he had neither a job nor any savings. I believe he finally found a job shoveling coal off a truck into coal bins.
In August of 1942, he entered the service of the United States Army. This is taken directly from his separation qualification record, section 13: TITLE—DESCRIPTION—RELATED CIVILIAN OCCUPATION:
“AMPHIBIAN TANK DRIVER: Drove amphibian tank in
In landings on New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago,
and on Borneo with the Aussies. Served with 593rd
Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, 3rd Engineer Special
Brigade, for 24 months overseas. Also drove heavy
Trucks transporting heavy equipment.”
Section 32: Battles and Campaigns
“BISMARK ARCHIPELAGO; NEW GUINEA; AIR COMBAT Borneo.”
(Author’s note: When I asked him about the air combat, he said he must have flow over Borneo going someplace. He didn’t give any other reason.)
Another interesting notation in his discharge paper was that he was AWOL for 7 days. He went AWOL to marry my mother before shipping out to the pacific. They were married in Florida, and he hitch hiked to California to catch up to his outfit. When I asked about it, his response was, “What were they going to do to me? Send me to war?” It was an interesting response which I didn’t understand as a young man.
He was discharged from service on January 5, 1946. He had gone from a strong strapping young man to a very thin ill man spending time in the VA hospital. All treatments to help him failed. Apparently, he was dying. Part of his stomach was removed because of ulceration. He was given shock treatments. Mom said he had violent nightmares as if he were in battle. Finally, when he was in the hospital, he met a young Baptist preacher who had just graduated from seminary. In a nutshell, I believe my dad was dying because he believed that he had lost his salvation because of his deeds during the war.
Through counseling with the preacher, Dad started healing and checked out of the hospital. He and several other men built the preacher’s first church using hand tools. Dad never left that church. It was a sanctuary for him. He never completely got over the war. Demons followed him the rest of his life. When they attacked, he would call my wife who has a degree in theology and talk for long periods of time. My wife would settle him down until the demons found another chink in his armor. Then he would call her again.
I always thought my dad was a stern man. He would say, “A man has the right to swing his arms as hard as he wants until he hits another man. Then things change.” Everything was black and white with few shades of gray. Sundays were strictly observed. We couldn’t even watch a movie. I didn’t understand where he was coming from. Age brings wisdom, even to me. To understand my dad, I had to understand what shaped him. The Great Depression and WW II were major cataclysmic molding events. Just living through those periods of time had to be horrific.
I believe the reason he wanted to be called dad was because the term father was too distant for him. Dad meant he was close to his children. In retrospect, I believe he dearly loved his family and wanted them to do better than he had in life. All five of his children graduated from college and have never been in trouble. He stayed married to the same woman until death. He was a sounding board whenever asked. Out of the greatest generation, I was only close to one of them. I’m positive that there are many “greats” from that generation, but I’m only qualified to speak of one. I miss him. That’s why this piece is titled THE GREATEST GENERATION OF ONE.