I'm posting the reflection written by my son Andy. It's a wonderful read for anyone who is a father, who loves a father, or who has lost a father.
"Today marks a unique milestone in my life. My boy Braeden is exactly the age I was when my father was killed some 45 years ago. Braeden turned 5 on April 27th. I thought I would share some pictures from then and now and some reflections.
Growing up I often got the question, “Do you remember your father”? The question always took me by surprise. Of course I remember him! My father was bigger than life to me. How could I not? But I realize I’m never really sure what is my memory or just an image of a story someone may have told me. What I remember is more of an overwhelming feeling of warmth, love, happiness, and comfort. I know he was a big part of my life.
My sister once wrote that his death was like our childhoods had been split in two. On one side Daddy was alive and life was bright and sunny. On the other side he was dead and life was filled with grief and despair. My mother recently recalled how she became concerned when a teacher told her that when she asked me why I never smiled I replied, “I keep trying on different smiles but can’t find one that fit’s. I coped with imaginary phone calls to the Navy where they told me he didn’t really die. He was stranded somewhere on an island waiting for the Navy to pick him up. I couldn’t picture him dying because he was Superman. Every time I tried to visualize the crash he would always parachute out. In my imagination his body would be bigger than the airplane he flew. I’m not sure how long it took before I started to smile again but It seems like a long time. When the day finally came that I didn’t think about him, I remember a feeling of guilt. It felt like I had betrayed him. How could I let go? Overtime that feeling went away and life went on. I became a regular kid struggling to grow up like other kids. I stopped thinking about him constantly the way I did those first few years after he was killed.
In my 20’s it started again. I thought about him often. I searched for answers and clues about who he was. I sought out men who served with him who could tell me something about his life. Maybe I was trying to disprove the myth in my mind of what a great man he was. After all, I was just a little boy. He couldn’t really be bigger than life. It felt like if I could just get a little more information maybe I would reach some “aha” moment. But more information didn’t fill that void. I came to the realization that my memories were fading and what I lost I would never get back. The paradox of losing a parent at a young age is that no matter how good your life is (and my life has been good), your life would have been so much better without that loss.
In recent years I’ve discovered that I was wrong about never getting back what I lost. Someday I hope my children come to appreciate the gift they have given me. With the births of my two children, the memory I have of my father has flooded back into my life. Each day is an overwhelming feeling of warmth, love, happiness, and comfort. It feels like I’ve picked up where my Dad and I left off, just now my role is reversed. I find myself in endless pursuit of giggles from my kids. When I shout out in the car, “everyone who loves Mommy raise their hands”, I smile when I see their hands dart up to be first. I laugh when they climb over each other to jump onto my back to ride the “mechanical bull”. I cherish the moments and experiences we share on camping trips, outings to the beach, or just quiet moments early in the morning cuddling in bed as a family. My children have brought me back to a place I thought was gone forever.
In the grand scheme of things we are all on this earth a very short time. Weather you die at 34 as my father did or live to 101 as his father did, life is what you make of it while you’re here. My father did a lot in his time. He pursued higher education, a career, adventure, and service to his country. But most of all he created a family and left a legacy of love and commitment for each other.
After all these years, I’m still in awe of my father. Having my own children now, I have a greater appreciation for how hard it must have been for him to put himself in harm’s way every time he catapulted off a carrier or flew missions over North Vietnam. I don’t mind saying I’m half the man he is. I’m just proud to be his son.
Tomorrow I’ll wake up and my boy will be a day older. He can climb into our bed and put his arms around me. I’ll still be here for both my children and I hope for many more days and years to come. I want them to know how much they mean to me for as long as I’m around. I will never take for granted how much I mean to them.