Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sippican Cottage: My Father Asks For Nothing

Sippican Cottage: My Father Asks For Nothing

Papa (Marci's grandfather Billy Wise) died in February 2003, I can gauge how long ago by how big my youngest daughter is. She was a tiny spark of happiness toddling around a gloomy living room back then. She didn't get a chance to know him, and it's her loss.

He was a supply Sergeant in the Army Air Force, based in England from 1942 on. His unit got there to set up everything so the B-17s based out of England could start the difficult process of sorting out what worked and what didn't in the aerial bombing of Hitler's Europe. He flew on a few missions, he called them "milk runs" across the channel to France, when they needed anyone who could hold a M2 .50 caliber machinegun in the side gunner position, but he would tell you he wasn't a combat soldier. He was a proud veteran of the Eighth Air Force, though. He had a story or three about going across to Normandy a few days after D-Day to set up Marsten matting to build an improvised airstrip. He wasn't a fan of war.

He came home to a wife who loved him for nearly sixty years (and still does today), a series of sales jobs at which he found middle-class success, and had two children: a daughter and a son, who is the father of my wife and the grandfather of my children.

I knew Papa for what seems like a very short time, it was only 12 years and some change. I intended to take him to an airshow and buy him and I a ride in a B-17, but by the time I had the resources I didn't have the time, and he passed away suddenly. It would have been a great thing, but I dithered, and I missed it. I miss him more.

He died the way he would have wanted to, I think: in the middle of a joke at a doughnut shop where he and his Greatest Generation compatriots met daily to solve the problems of the world. He probably would have wanted to make it to the punchline, but hey, leave your audience wanting more, right? He was a gem of a man.

His burial was at the National Cemetary in Grand Prairie. If you've never been to a military funeral you can't understand the bond that soldiers feel for one another. The attendants at his funeral showed the utmost respect for a fallen soldier, and his survivors. He fought, like so many others who proceeded him into that cemetery, because it was the right thing to do. My wife, my children, maybe even I were witness for him that day, because he made our lives as we know them possible. It was the least we could do.

This is a great piece about a son who got to take his father to see a B-24 like the one that was so formative in his young years. I'm glad for him that he did.

It's also a reminder to me to stop doing the urgent things, and start doing the important things.

1 comment:

Troy M. Stirman said...

GREAT you, I love and enjoy talking to these silent "giants" and learning their history.

I remember stopping off at a widower's house in south Texas about 4 years ago to run an errand for the President's office. As I entered the living room, I noticed his extensive library was entirely devoted to the European air campaign during WWII. Seeking an opening, I said:

"Oh, I see you are a WWII history buff?"

His response was typical of his era:

"If you call flying 68 bombing missions over Germany historical, then I guess I'm as much of a buff as they get."

(He had the flak scars to prove it!)