“The doctors have told us to gather the family,” my stepmother Darlene called with the news on that early afternoon, January 4, 2012. My wife and I, plus our second-oldest daughter Jill, drove throughout the night to be at Dad’s bedside.
Three days of reflective torment followed as I watched my father painfully slip away. The man who harshly disciplined and berated me, who coached me to the point where I came to loathe sports, the combat vet who taught me to fight, to neither expect quarter nor give it, always with an unspoken demand ablaze within his eyes: Are you your mother’s son or mine?
Such was the question I’d struggled to answer all my life. Having never resolved it, I wavered between those two worlds, holding firm to the best of both.
And now the stress of choosing did not matter, for soon Dad would no longer be looking over my shoulder and passing judgment. During those deathwatch days, while I quietly agonized with guilt that his dying would relieve that burden of expectation, I also came to comprehend there was so much more to this man.
This son of a father who never recognized him as such, was the last of the old Corps, the Leathernecks who first took the fight to the Japanese at Guadalcanal in August 1942— outgunned and outnumbered ten-to-one—and triumphed where lesser men would have failed. He’d cut a path of destruction through Tarawa and Saipan, one of the uncommon warriors of our country’s greatest generation; a vanishing breed from a day when soldiers were sent off to war to destroy our enemies, not merely contain a perceived evil with half-assed measures, like the war in Vietnam.
Indeed, under this banner of “Victory or Death,” my father had persevered, had bled and killed without compassion to help build a better world.
And for this he’d paid one hell of a price.
As had my mother and her children — especially Jeff . . .