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Completing the Circle

I’ve had some powerful experiences in the past two weeks. Some would call them synchronicities. Others would call them mere coincidences. Whatever they were, they gave me a feeling of connectedness, a feeling of being remembered even though I am (I think) too much of a skeptic to believe my father is sending me messages from the great beyond.

The night before what would have been Dad’s 97th birthday, I was flooded with reminiscences of prior celebrations, memories I captured in Birthdays Remembered. His actual birthday was a travel day, filled with last-minute details and a losing battle to cram nine days worth of clothing into a carry-on.

Around 1 p.m., I wrote an email message to my three brothers: I know we all know what today is. I’m sure we’re remembering it in our own ways. I can’t think of Dad’s birthday without thinking of all of you, and I wish we were together somehow. But I am with you in spirit and somehow, I think Mom and Dad are with US in spirit.

A few minutes later, I received an unexpected call from Kline Memorials, the company that was creating a monument for my father’s, mother’s and sister’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. Back in September, we completed some forms requesting approval for its installation from Arlington. Kline’s representative told me that the granite marker had just been installed. On Dad’s birthday.

After my trip to the Northwest, I side tripped to see (or as I liked to say, “meet”) a piece of art that I asked an artist-friend to create a painting as a way to remember and honor not only my father, but my mother. After Dad resided for so many years in a bedroom in my home, I needed to reclaim that space, to remove the telltale signs of Dad’s final weeks, to re-imagine it as a welcoming space for guests and a sanctuary for me.

That’s asking a lot of a painting.

What this very personal memorial is not is an attempt at “closure.” I’m not trying to conclude anything, least of all my relationship with my father. He and I had no unfinished business.

A painting was a way to literally put myself back in the picture with my mother and father, at a time when our security was both threatened (by my father’s heart disease) and protected (by their fierce brand of love and family loyalty).

My artist-friend followed my journey with Dad long before I thought about asking her to create a painting. Though she was inspired by a bit of free verse I wrote for her last spring, The Kingdom of the Wing Chair, I immediately saw details that she had pulled from past blog posts and conversations. Books of his favorite poets, for example, sit on a shelf behind the central image, a wing chair.

Since my verse had mentioned that a Spaniel was often seated next to Dad’s chair, she decided to include a Springer Spaniel. My Dad always loved Springers, great family dogs with good noses for hunting upland birds. Our first was Boot, an unusually large male with a head shaped like an anvil, who was just as hard-headed. Boot was followed by two litter mates, Katie and Beall. The dog in the painting looked just like Beall, with her white “feathers” extending from her legs and her eyes locked on to a spot where Dad would sit.

Only I never mentioned a Springer in my verse, just a Spaniel. My friend took the liberty of including a Springer because she needed a pattern to balance the bold green and red solids in the painting.

When we went to dinner, I asked her about the meaning of a gold ring tied to a string and hung from the book shelf so that it dangled next to the chair. “That was to put your mother in the picture,” she told me. She used the iconic image of a gold band since she didn’t know what my mother’s wedding ring looked like.

“You mean like this?” I asked. From my left hand, I removed a thin gold band I’ve been wearing since Dad died. The inside is engraved, “E.D.C. to H.S.C. 26 Dec. ’41.”

We talked about how painting is more than a one-way conversation.

“It’s a circle,” she said. “And the circle is only completed when the viewer brings their experience to it.”

Circles don’t need to close, and they are never broken.

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Marine Corps Wife: My Mom’s Career

That's mom seated at bottom left, and Dad standing at upper right in 1959

That’s mom seated at bottom left, and Dad standing at upper right in 1959

Skimming through Mom and Dad’s photo albums from the late 50s, Dad is pictured at the pinnacle of his success in the Marines. While it was Dad’s obituary that carried the details of his promotions and assignments, in many ways his career was her career.

It wasn’t that she loyally followed Dad as Sarah followed Abraham. She was a woman with a mission. She kept the home front running and deployed her considerable social and organizational skills to the job of supporting Dad in the regimented social environment that surrounded officers’ wives.

Dad said he wasn’t keen on the idea of marrying in the tumultuous weeks that followed Pearl Harbor. Not that he didn’t love Mom. He did, passionately. But he was acutely aware of the potentially abbreviated life span of a Second Lieutenant in wartime, and he didn’t want to see her widowed.

When he shipped out in 1943, soon to join with the 4th Marine Division in the battle for Roi-Namur in the Marshall Islands, he left Mom at home with my brother, Scott, who had been born that November. When the war ended and he returned, he joked that he had to fight for his pants. Actually what he said was that had to fight for his pants every day of their marriage. When the war ended, he returned from the horrors of Saipain, Tinian and Iwo Jima to a home where Mom was comfortably and firmly in charge.

As Dad’s assignments took them from Quantico, to Washington DC, up to Kingston Ontario, back to Washington DC, and then across a country and an ocean to Honolulu, Mom packed and unpacked, settled kids in schools.

Each time they arrived at a new post, she paid a social visit to the Commanding Officer’s wife, calling card in hand, as expected. She joined the Officers’ Wives Club, and knowing Mom, she did an exemplary job of supporting their activities. She loved the social whirl that went with an officer’s life in those days, like the formal party in honor of the promotion of Leonard Chapman to Brigadier General.

In 1951, my Mom found herself running a busy household with a nine year old, a four year old and a one year old – oh, and Nana, her mother. Mom and Dad’s worst fears came to pass when little Midge was diagnosed with leukemia, for which there was no known cure.

As a mother, I can’t imagine how she coped, but it was in character for her to forge ahead, hoping against hope. My uncle, a hematologist-oncologist, came down from Boston to administer experimental treatments and oversee Midge’s care. To no avail. She died October 22, 1953, a few months short of her fourth birthday.

Dad’s orders to ship out for a solo tour of duty with the 3rd Marine Division in Gifu, Japan, were held during the last months of Midge’s illness. Mom had learned, as Midge lay dying, that she was pregnant for the fourth time.

On February 21, 1954, Dad wrote Mom from Okinawa while in transit:

Postcard from Japan 1954

Although it was lost in Dad’s move to California, I remember reading a lengthy letter he wrote from his tour in Japan, sharing the pain of their devastating loss, saying how he longed to be there to hold her.

When my brother Dean was born in April 1954, Dad said, “It was if the sun came out.” That may be true, but now Mom was alone, managing a household with an 11 year old, a six year old, her mother, and a newborn. She was on her own when she had Dean christened:

Eileen Campbell with baby Dean, flanked by Bruce and Scott

In a professional portrait she had taken the next year, her expression is serene but somber.

Eileen Campbell raising three boys, 1955

This summer, we will inter both Mom and Dad with Midge at Arlington National Cemetery. While visiting Washington DC this past week to make arrangements, I wondered if it was fair to put so much emphasis on Dad’s career. After all, the burial with honors is provided because of his service, not hers.

Then I realized that it wasn’t just Dad’s efforts that deserve the recognition. Like most military spouses, she earned it, too. Knowing Dad, he would be the first to say that Mom made it possible for him to do what he did.

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Tracing My Father’s Footsteps

marineband

The whole time that I was getting ready to leave for my meeting this morning, I was rehearsing what I would say in my mind. Everything sounded wrong. Then I put on my just-ironed white blouse. Too sheer. Put a tank underneath it. Tied a colorful scarf around my shoulders. Untied it. Did it a different way.

I was representing my Dad to his contemporary counterpart and I had to get it right to meet the Executive Officer of the Corps’ oldest post.

Having allowed for traffic, I arrived at 8th and I about a half hour early and pulled into one of the diagonal parking spots. Turned off the car.

I heard a trumpet fanfare. Sounded like the Marine Corps band. I thought perhaps one of the restaurants across the street was piping it outside to appeal to the tourists. Then the music stopped. Started again. Stopped again. The same musical phrase was repeated several times in a row.

I got out of the car and looked behind me. Between the two-story brick buildings, past the tidy painted iron fence, I could see the edge of reviewing stands. That’s the parade ground, I realized, the one in Dad’s black and white pictures of the evening parade.

The Marine Corps band was practicing outside at the very moment I arrived.

Entering the gate on 8th, I parked as directed alongside the parade ground, next to the building marked “Center House,” and “Bachelor’s Quarters.” Immediately, a precisely-pressed Marine approached me. It was LtC. Garnett, the current Exec Officer of Marine Barracks.

We entered Center House, which functions – as it did in my Dad’s day – as the reception area for visitors and Marine officers. LtC. Garnett stowed his tan cap in the slots provided for that purpose in the entry. He ushered me into a room with two large leather couches that faced each other. He asked if I had memories of my Dad’s service there, and I explained that I was born while Dad and Mom were stationed in Canada, just a few months before my Dad assumed his role as XO. I said that Dad had some wonderful experiences, experiences I was sure he was having, too, as one wasn’t asked to serve as XO unless someone wanted you there.

He explained that he had served in Afghanistan as Executive Officer of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Division. When his Commanding Officer of the 8th was appointed Commanding Officer of Marine Barracks, he asked LtC. Garnett to come with him.

I pulled out my book of photos, worried that I would bore him – the equivalent of inflicting your home movies on a stranger.

He pointed out that the grass on the parade ground, which doubled as a baseball field in my Dad’s time, now had to be maintained perfectly. The evening parade, now a tradition for more than 50 years, was started while Gen. Leonard Chapman was Commanding Officer of the Barracks, and the same format and traditions persist today. In some of the photos, there is a tree, which the Lt. Colonel explained was the ceremonial tree. It had died of a virus, and a post and sign about it still serve as the dividing line between the south and north viewing stands. Guests of the post are seated just to its south.

“This is like royalty,” he said, looking at the officers in Dad’s photos, many of whom had legendary careers in the Marines.

When we got to photos of men holding silver mugs, standing in front of a wall of mugs, he said, “That’s here. That’s the drum room.”

LtC GarnettOn a brief tour of Center House, he explained that it’s still the gathering place on Friday nights. The drum room has an ample number of beer taps. Each of the officers assigned to the Barracks have a mug associated with their position, and on the far side of the mug is engraved the names of those who have held it in recent years. When room for names is exhausted, the mug is retired. He explained that, when the building was renovated in the 70s, the mugs were sent to Quantico with the intent of returning them following the renovation. Unfortunately, they were lost and never restored to the Barracks.

My father served under Gen. Leonard Chapman, then CO of Marine Barracks

My father served under Gen. Leonard Chapman, then CO of Marine Barracks

I said several times that I didn’t want to take too much of his time. He explained, smiling, “This is part of what we do. This is the legacy of the Marines.”

He said that he hoped that some day his son would be interested in learning more about his father’s experience at Marine Barracks. His son, now three, was born while he was in Afghanistan.

I noted that it was my mother’s decision to come east to marry Dad, and that she sent him a telegram to that effect not long after Pearl Harbor.

“She was a pretty strong woman,” I commented. He smiled. “I guess we attract strong women,” he said, smiling. He had asked his wife to follow him on one of his deployments prior to Afghanistan. “She said she’d go… with a ring on her finger,” he noted.

After covering a few logistics, he walked me out to the car.

“I bet your Dad is up there organizing things in heaven,” he said. I replied, “Mom got there first and I’m sure she had it all under control.”

As I approached the car, the Marine Corps Band had just come to the finale of the song that always reduced Dad to tears: “Glory, glory, hallelujah, His Truth is marching on.” Dad said he cried because it reminded him of all of the good men he knew, men that died in the War. We ended Dad’s memorial with the Mormon Tabernacle choir version.

The way the Marines play it, it ends with what seems to be the final chord,  but after a pause, it crescendos in slow pulses, a half step higher, and another half step, and another half – again and again, until finally the trumpets blare in a massive, perfect chord. The air vibrates as the echo dies away.

It felt like Dad had arranged it, just for me.

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Scott speaks to Dad’s exemplification of Marine values

scottdad

My eldest brother, Scott, 15 years senior, kicked off the family remarks at my father’s memorial on Saturday. He spoke from notes rather than full text, so I’ve done the best I can to recreate them here:

My Dad was, quite simply, the finest man I’ve ever known. He was always a rock for everyone in the family, and his passing has left a void that will never be filled. The family was very fortunate that he was a major part of our lives for so long.

If I were to describe my Dad’s character, I would say that he exemplified the core values of the USMC:

Honor,which means to display the highest ethical and moral behavior; of abiding by an uncompromising code of integrity; and of respecting others. The quality of maturity, dedication, trust and dependability commit Marines to be responsible and be accountable for their actions; to fulfill their obligations; and to hold others accountable for their actions.

Courage, which entails the mental, moral and physical strength expected of all Marines. It carries them through the challenges of combat and helps them overcome fear. It is the inner strength that enables a Marine to do what is right; to adhere to a higher standard of personal conduct; and to make tough decisions under stress and pressure.

Commitment is the spirit of determination and dedication found in Marines, it leads to the highest order of discipline for individuals and units, and it inspires a driving determination to achieve a standard of excellence in every endeavor.

Dad displayed an abundance of all these qualities throughout his life.

But Dad’s most important achievement was of a more personal nature. Dad did not have a particularly happy relationship with his father, although he did not talk about it much until the latter years of his life. He made a deliberate decision to break that cycle and to be the best father he could be. Several pivotal events in his life may have influenced that decision: marrying our mother, Eileen; combat in WWII, the death of Midge, their first daughter; and his heart attack in 1962, which forced his retirement from the Marine Corps.

He was a romantic in the complete sense of the word, with a deep love for his wife and family. There were almost certainly times during WWII when he wondered if he would come home alive. If he had not, I’d be his only child, and I would not have the same brothers and sister.

After Ken Burns’ series about the Civil War aired Maj. Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife, I shared it with Dad. He told me that, had he been writing in the 19th century, he might have written a letter very much like this one:

July 14, 1861

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure — and it may be one of some conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done.

If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter.

I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows — when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children — is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my forefathers floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last hours, perhaps, before that of death — and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us.

I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar — that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been!

How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night — amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours — always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

Sullivan

Major Ballou perished at the first battle of Bull Run.

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My brother Bruce remembers, “My Dad was cool!”

brucedad

At my mother’s memorial in 1999, we were all too raw to share personal remarks, but at Dad’s memorial, it seemed right to share our memories and reflections. Together, we painted a more complete picture of Dad for those who joined us in honoring him, and for each other. Bruce is my middle brother, 10 years older than I am. Here are his remarks:

“I wrote this recollection in 2008, shortly after Dad had a pretty significant stroke and I thought we were going to lose him. I wanted to capture some of my favorite times with him (and some were yet to come). Most of my best memories of Dad took place outdoors, frequently involving hunting or fishing. I dimly recall fishing Deep Creek Lake with Dad and Scott before my sister Madeline died, and I also remember fishing through the foot-thick ice on Lake Ontario. My first “best memory” took place during the summer I turned 13. It may actually have occurred the day I turned 13, but I’m not sure of that. It was the summer before everything changed, forever.

I had been involved in the Sportsmen’s’ Club (not sure that’s the name) as an after school activity at Kensington Junior High that year, and I wanted to go fishing with Dad in the worst way. I also wanted to go to summer camp at Monte Vita Ranch, near Berkley Springs, WV. I had been invited back as a CIT, and all of my best friends were going. I knew it was a financial stretch for our family, at least in comparison with those of my friends in Kensington’s Rock Creek Hills. When I actually got to go to Monte Vita, I was surprised and thrilled, and really didn’t expect much else, birthday-wise. I did mention to Dad that I wanted to go with him to fish for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac River sometime.

On the second weekend at camp, Dad showed up (my birthday or parents day?). I remember showing him around the camp, especially the pond where I fished for bluegills after supper, and also the rifle range where I had just earned my Sharpshooter and Expert Rifle certifications. That night, Dad gathered me and several of my friends up and took us all down to the Potomac River, just upstream from Harpers Ferry. He had a rod for each of us boys, and he set up the rods for my friends. Then, he roped us all together and, ever the optimist, handed each of us a burlap sack to hold our fish. Then we waded out. It was terrifying, but incredibly exciting at the same time. It was dark; my glasses were completely fogged up from the humid summer air. The cool rush of the water tugged powerfully at my legs, and the rocks were slippery beneath my PF Keds. I have no recollection of actually catching anything, but I know absolutely that I was an instant hero with all my buddies. MY Dad was COOL!

I know now that Dad had fished the area many times for smallmouth bass. I know from personal experience later in life that it is possible to know a river well enough to wade safely even at night. I know now that he would never have done it if he felt we were seriously at risk. But I didn’t know it then, only that I trusted him completely. He never failed the trust we placed in him; he never failed the trust anyone put in him.

My second “best memory” with Dad probably took place in 1978 or 1979. It was not long after his first bypass operation, and he had a new lease on life. I came home in November on leave (perhaps for Thanksgiving?), and we took off Friday night together for a weekend of chukar hunting in the Bridgeport, WA area. We stayed at the “Y” Motel, a running joke: Y NOT! The next morning, we parked the truck and began walking uphill along a long intermittent stream channel. We had been walking perhaps 30 minutes when the current dog started getting birdy. As we crested the rise, it opened up into a sunlit shallow bowl. Dad was slightly downhill and to my left with the dog, working along the edge of the rimrock, and I walked slowly into the depression. About ten yards in, the birds began to flush. I hit one, then another, and the birds kept flushing and flushing, in the hundreds. I heard several shots from Dad, and saw more birds fall from the sky. We recovered 4 birds (one of mine was lost), and spent the rest of the day picking up scattered birds from that same initial flock. We probably walked ten miles up and down the mountainside. It was a great hunt, and we returned to the Y tired and content. After that, I never again saw a flock of chukars that large in one spot.

My Dad also loved the romantic poets, and often recited long passages from memory. He often quoted from the poem I am going to share with you. It embodies, I think, how he sought to live his life, and largely succeeded.

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act, – act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

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A bittersweet cousin “union”

cousinsfeb162013

Tall row: Isaac Campbell, Vincent Campbell, Thom Stone, Sandy Campbell Kaduce, Marc Campbell, Henry Campbell, Madeline Stone. Front row: Eileen Campbell, Alison Campbell, Oleg Kaduce, Max Kaduce (Max was a little tired but he had a great time!)

What do you call a reunion with people you’ve never met before? Or people you hadn’t seen since they were infants? At my father’s memorial on Saturday, my brothers and I brought all of our children. And they brought all of their children. The result was a first for our family: all of the cousins and cousins-once-removed in the same place at the same time.

As much as they enjoyed each other, taking advantage of the bowling alley next to Pour at Four where the family met to share wine, food and memories following the memorial service, for my children, at least, there was a sadness to it. They know what it is to have close cousins, living within an hour of their four Stone family cousins in California. In seeing cousins they had not seen in many years, and meeting others for the first time, they recognized what they had been missing.

Growing up, my brothers and I never saw much of our cousins. Although we have developed close relationships some, especially with Louise (on Dad’s side) and Lynn (on Mom’s), our family seems to be missing the cousin gene. There are plenty of practical reasons that we didn’t spend time with our cousins: divorces that pushed cousins away from one another, family estrangements, distance and finances. (Despite these forces, we were surprised and delighted that two of Dad’s nephews came from Yakima to honor Dad: West Campbell and Ed Campbell, Jr.)

The memorial was a gift in so many unexpected ways, but one of the loveliest was the chance for our children and children’s children to spend a little time together. Remember this, dear ones, when it is time for you to foster relationships between your children. You belong to one another. Hold on tight.

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My brother Dean took Dad home

deandad2011

Of my three brothers, Dean is closest in age to me, just three years older. As he explained in his remarks at yesterday’s memorial, he and I knew the kinder, gentler version of Dad. Dad used to say that he and Mom raised Scott and Bruce, but he let us raise ourselves. I’m not sure that’s quite true, but he did perhaps trust the process more than he did when he was first a father. Here are Dean’s remarks:

“I would like to thank you all for coming today to help us remember and celebrate the life of my father, Henry Snively Campbell. I know he would be and, I like to think, is very pleased to see all of your familiar and beloved faces. I imagine his broad smile, and the warm greeting he would extend to all of you. On his behalf, I welcome you.

Today each of my siblings and I are sharing a few fragments of our memories of and love for our father. In some respects, my sister and I experienced a different father figure than did our two older brothers, so different in age were Betsy and I than they were.  Scott and Bruce knew the fiery, hard-charging, career-oriented Marine officer, a decorated WWII veteran who aspired to the Commandant’s mansion in Washington D.C., whereas Betsy and I were raised by a less rigid and more compassionate father. I believe that two events led him to re-balance his life outlook: the loss of his 4 year old daughter Midgie to leukemia in 1953; and his heart attack in 1962 that led to his premature retirement from the Marine Corps. I think these events made him re-consider what was most important to him in life; and it’s clear he decided it was his family.

My first memory of my father dates to the latter part of his Marine Corps service, during his post as Executive Officer at the Marine Barracks in Washington DC. I was about 4 or 5 years old at the time. Each Friday during the summer, an Evening Parade is held on the grounds within the barracks; the Exec is the parade commander, the conductor, if you will. In my memory of those parades, I see a marine platoon in spotless dress uniform, flawlessly conducting their silent drill with M-1 rifles, fixed bayonets gleaming in the twilight. The President’s Own Marine Band plays John Phillip Sousa. My father stands at the center, calling for the precise maneuvers in his full-throated, commanding voice.  You can imagine the impression that made on a 5 year old boy. He seemed about ten feet tall to me back then.

As I grew older, I naturally came to know him differently and more realistically, but the legacy of his Marine career was still much in evidence. He carried himself with an unmistakable grace and military bearing. He dressed smartly, and he spoke with authority, confidence, and courtesy. He modeled, more than he taught, the values and behaviors expected of a Marine, an officer, and a gentleman: respect; integrity; honor; courage; and commitment. I realize now more than I did during my childhood and adolescence that I tried to emulate him.  It was in this way that he taught me how I might become a man, poor student though I was.

Some of my most enduring adult memories of my father are of the times we spent together in his native eastern Washington, hunting chukar partridge in the hills high above the Columbia River near Bridgeport. The images are clear to me, as though they happened yesterday. This is my memory: on crisp fall mornings while it is still dark, we drive under bright stars from the river to the top of plateau, and out across the wheat stubble fields to our destination. We strike out before sunrise into the arid grass- and sage-covered land adjoining the cultivated fields. At the very edge of the Columbia gorge, we walk in the mist of early morning fog as it is driven off by the light breeze coming from the plateau. We move in silence, the only sounds coming from the snuffling dog working in front of us, and the crunching of the frosted grasses beneath our boots. The pungent smell of sage hangs in the cool morning air.  As the sun rises behind us in the eastern sky, we pause to stand at the precipice, looking out over the majestic expanse of the Columbia River gorge that spreads before us.  The hills across the river, many miles away, turn from dark to purple to tan as the sun climbs from the horizon. It’s an awe-inspiring sight that makes one feel humble and quite insignificant. I will always carry the memory of these mornings we spent together; and for me, he will live on within them.

I was truly fortunate to have been with my father in his final hours. The night before his passing, he was too weak to come to the table for dinner, even in his wheel chair – so Betsy and I brought our dinner into his room. We set up a card table in front of his recliner, squeezed in next to him, and had a quiet time together. In retrospect, he was clearly starting to fade, although Betsy and I did not realize at the time how close he was to the end.  He was very sleepy during dinner, and seemed to be in a waking dream state: still connected to the physical world around him, but clearly seeing and responding to other things as well.  As we sat together, he looked at me with half-closed eyes and asked, “Dean, will you drive?”. This caught me a bit off-guard, but I responded that of course I would. I wish now that I had had the wits to ask him where he wanted to go, but I did not. Afterwards, my first thought was that in his mind he thought we were sitting in our camper on one of our hunting trips, and that he wanted me to drive because he was too tired to carry on. What I’ve now come to believe is something else. In the few days preceding his passing, he was often restless and wakeful during the night, trying to get out of bed, even though he had become too weak and short of breath to walk on his own. Our hospice nurse told Betsy and me that such restlessness is fairly common, and offered the belief that perhaps those close to death know they have somewhere they need to go, and are so determined to get there they will get up out of bed and walk right out the front door if you aren’t watching over them. Today when I look back on my father’s words, I think he knew it was time for him to leave, and that he wanted me to drive him there. I think he was asking me to take him home.”

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