Today is Father’s Day here in the United States. I am not a father so the only way I celebrate this special day is by remembering my own father.
My dad was born in 1919 and he survived the Great Depression of the thirties by leaving school at eighth grade and working with his father as an itenerant boiler maker/plumber/welder/etc. Anything that they could turn their hand to that could earn money to be sent home to Michigan. They traveled and worked all throughout Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
By 1937 the economy had improved slightly and under FDR’s New Deal programs, dad, now 18, was able to secure employment with Timken Roller Bearing as an apprentice draftsman in Detroit. The family relocated from Flint to Detroit around that same time so I do not know if they relocated because of his job or prior to his job. I know that because, as the eldest, he had quit school to help the family financially, his younger brothers and sisters were all able to complete high school.Now living on Burt Road in Detroit, the family flourished as did dad. As you can see from the photo, he was a dapper and handsome man, a popular and engaging fellow with many friends. It was around this time (and about when the photo was taken, that dad met the girl who he would later marry, my mother.
Both families lived in the same neighborhood so it is no surprise that they met, sharing the same social circles.
With the advent of WWII, dad attempted several times to enlist but was rejected. Finally, in mid to late 1942, he was drafted into the US Army.
In 1943, after their romance had blossomed, mom got on a train from Detroit to Salinas Kansas and they were married in the post chapel at Camp Phillips. Mom returned on the next train, no time for a honeymoon!
On D-Day +8 dad’s platoon (79th Infantry Division, 314th Infantry, Company L) entered France through Utah Beach and joined the drive to take Cherbourg. Eleven days later (20 June 1944) on the outskirts of Cherbourg, in the hedgerows, dad was severely wounded when a German mortar shell hit the radio pack he was carrying (dad was the platoon sergeant). He normally would not be carrying the radio pack but his RTO had been killed in heavy fighting the previous day. That radio pack saved his life even though he was gravely wounded. During the drive to Cherbourg he lost over 80% of his platoon due to enemy action. He was hospitallized in a field hospital in France until he was sent forward as ‘walking wounded’ and assigned as a replacement depot sergeant in Belgium during the Ardennes campaign in December of 1944. His job was sending fresh troops forward during what is now known as the Battle of the Bulge. After the battle was over and the atrocities on troops who were being sent forward (with weapons but no ammunition as that was issued once they arrived at their new units) including the machine-gunning of replacements in the snow, dad suffered an emotional breakdown and was again hospitalized for ‘battle fatigue’, what we now know as PTSD. He was evacuated to England for a couple of months and then transferred back to the states to McLaren General Hospital in Illinois (then operating as a VA facility) for psychiatric treatment related to persistent battle fatigue in early 1945. He was honorably (medically) discharged from there in February, 1946 and returned home to his waiting wife. My oldest sibling, born 9 months later in November of 1946, started their family, reaching seven children of wjich I am the fifth, born in 1955.
Timkin couldn’t return him to his job as it had been filled by another returning veteran so dad looked for other work and found employment with Spitzley Corporation, a heating and cooling contrator, as a draftsman. He undertook classes at night school as well as self-improvement classes through the Dale Carnegie courses.
Dad steadily rose through the company, head draftsman, estimator, head estimator and project manager, contributing to the reputation of the company and the companies abilities to deliver on successively more complex contracts.
In 1967, after being passed over for vice president in favor of a recent college graduate (non-veteran) who was a new hire (dad had worked for Spitzley for twenty years), dad resigned and after a month became vice president and chief estimator for Midwest Mechanical Contractors. He helped grow that company and successfully out bid his former employer on a consistent basis, leading to the decline of Spitzley through the late 60′s and eventual closure in 1975, a year after dad’s passing.
Dad taught me much, both directly and indirectly. He taught me to hunt and fish, he made sure I had a good Catholic education and he also taught me, by example, what not to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad and I am grateful for what he taught me. He taught me, through his alcoholism to not be a drinker. He taught me through his abuse of us kids that I would not be a good father and thus I have no children and married late in life because I knew that I would not be a good husband and father. Only after much maturing have I reached a point where my wife is teaching me to be a good husband.
In many ways my dad was a good man and only because of what we now know was PTSD did my father engage in the destructive behaviors that made him less than perfect. Dad was a much changed man after the war according to my late mother. He said as much to me. As a young adult (18-19) we discussed his experiences in the war while fishing and camping together and especially so in the last five months of his life, following my honorable discharge from the Air Force.
My dad passed away in my arms just after midnight on June 9th, 1974 (forty years ago last week) while on a camping trip. He was five months shy of 55 years of age.
I miss him and I pray for his immortal soul every day.
May you rest in peace dad and in the presence of God be healed of all your wounds.
Your loving son