11 Nov Permission Granted
I write often of leaders I’ve encountered in my journey.
A great many of them were ones I met in the business world – some from my formative years well before that.
This one speaks to a leader I’ve known ALL of my life.
Truth be told, a lot of what I learned from him was only validated in the years that came after – the first truths, the ones you experience in your youth, are sometimes the ones that stay with you.
Pop was – and is – what some might call a “man’s man.” Short on emotion – limited in his words – strong in his opinions – and protective of his family and those around him.
He married well. My mom – his wife of 67 years – is his equal and without question, God selected these two as partners for a reason.
Pop’s nearing his 95th birthday now. That picture was taken some 4 plus years ago – as he “requested permission to come aboard” our small pontoon.
The hat he wears speaks to the nature of his salute – his “at attention” demeanor.
When he was 17 years old Pop went to war. It was 1943. His parents signed a waiver that allowed him to join the navy – and within months he was in the South Pacific Theatre – experiencing first hand the savagery of combat. His service as helmsman on a Destroyer Escort carried him to places with strange sounding names.
A few weeks ago, as we sat on his front porch, Pop told me about March of 1945 – the massing of ships at a tiny atoll named Ulithi in the South Pacific – and the preparation for an invasion unlike anything the world had ever seen.
Though they did not know the specifics of the mission about to unfold, every one knew the target.
The final assault.
722 ships gathered – their sheer size covered over 200 miles.
It was estimated that the Allied forces would suffer a quarter million casualties trying to bring to its knees an enemy that would not capitulate.
I ask myself today, “What does it feel like – to be 19 years old and on the brink of a conflict that will ultimately dictate the future of the world?”
To know you are writing history.
The invasion never happened of course.
My dad says, “When we heard they had dropped an Atomic bomb, we all asked…what in the h*** is an Atomic bomb?”
The surrender that came days laters – the cheers and the celebration – the sense of relief among all those prepared to give their lives in defense of liberty.
Pop came back home without fanfare. He told me he thumbed back from a base after he received his discharge papers. No one was even expecting him when he walked in the front door that day.
He had no high school degree. He had dropped out to go to war.
In the years that followed he managed to get his G.E.D. Drove a truck for a while. No real direction in his life.
It was serendipitous that his accomplishments as an amateur boxer got the attention of a boxing coach at a local university. Back then boxing was an intercollegiate sport. When the college team came to town to match up against a local boxing team they dominated – except for one bout. The local boy won that one. My dad. The coach was impressed enough to invite him to come to East Carolina University.
Dad said no. He had a job.
A year later the college team returned. Again, they dominated. Only one local winner. You guessed it. This time a new coach was more insistent.
Dad gave up his truck and moved into the basement of the college gymnasium. He became the second in his family to earn a degree.
Not surprisingly, he eventually became a teacher.
He was well cast in that role.
For some reason I thought of Pop’s journey as I reflected on the turmoil that seems to engulf our country these days.
Maybe it’s because this is Veteran’s Day – and I reflect on so many who have served our country. Proudly.
Men and women who’ve willingly put themselves in harm’s way.
With all our differences…with all our partisanship…with all our controversies….America still stands as the greatest country in the history of humankind.
Its flag…and its traditions…should be cherished.
This experiment in democracy will continue to suffer the pains of growth…we will need to work even harder to live up to the ideals on which we were founded.
But all in all – it still serves as a beacon to the world of “what can be.”
Too many have sacrificed too much to allow anything less.
Pop’s permission to come aboard that day four years ago was not the only highlight. After a few spins around the tiny lake he took the helm. By my reckoning there had been a 70 year gap since his previous time at the wheel.
The first time – when it really mattered aboard the U.S.S. Darby – when kamikazes flew overhead and submarines lurked somewhere in the depths – was only a distant memory.
We named our pontoon the Darby Too.
It seemed appropriate.
The leaders that change our lives never leave us – they remain “on board” forever.