I am thinking of my Dad today. It is the day Veterans Day is observed, and my Dad served in the United States Navy for a bit more than twenty years.
I actually got out our photo albums to find the ones that hold the photos of my Dad in his Navy uniform (the photo shown was taken in 1956).
My Dad was a tall, very handsome mid-westener who ran away from his life on his mother and step-father’s farm when he was sixteen years old. Of course sixteen was too young to join the service, and he returned home to Benton Harbor, Michigan until he was the ripe old age of seventeen. But my Dad had a passion. Actually, two passions. One to serve his country and the other to see the world. I guess he was like a lot of young men in the 40’s. But he was my Dad.
My Dad didn’t talk much about his youth, but when he did I listened with all of my heart. I am his only daughter, squished very closely in-between two brothers. (Yes, you can tell when my Dad was on-leave by when his children were born!) But anyway… my Dad talked about life of the farm. How hard it was. How he felt so badly for his Mom and the never-ending work. He told me how she wished he would join one of the armed services. Make something of his life. He was very gifted, but had no way of growing. Soaring. His Mom, my Grandma Martin, had come from Yugoslavia as a young girl. She had known persecution in this new world, but she loved her new country. She married and had two sons, Richard and William, and then suffered the loss of her husband (my Dad’s father) during World War I. She had re-married and had two daughters.
Yes, life was hard. And she wanted her youngest son, William, to have opportunities. Well, both she, and he, got their wish.
When my Dad finally enlisted in the Navy, he was in for the shock of his life. He had grown up with his name… William Klatt. But when his birth certificate was found, his name was listed as William Klaczynski. Seems that the family name was changed (like in many families) to “Americanize” the immigrants, but my Dad was born at that same time and his name was never legally changed.
So began his life as William Klaczynksi, a name he cherished.
My Dad was stationed at many bases throughout the country. He served in Korea. He was a medic on the USS Richard S. Edwards, DD950. And we followed him whenever we could.
I remember missing him so very much when he had “sea-duty”… for several months at a time. I remember him coming home from these duties like it was yesterday. My Mom got us kids all dressed up and we would go to the Navy Base and wait for the little boats to bring in our Dads and husbands and sons and brothers. Everyone cried with joy. And then we would have Daddy back. To fix our bikes. Cook hamburgers on the grill he made himself. Put butterfly bandages on our cuts and bruises. Mow the grass. Wear his favorite red plaid flannel shirt. Play with our dog. Help us with our science projects. Sing country songs completely out of tune. Tell me how much he wanted a granddaughter to spoil, and spoil some more. Plant marigolds. Ready his beloved boat for summer excursions. Make egg and pepper sandwiches for breakfast. Put on his Navy uniform and hat (especially the hat) with such celebration.
And the visits to the farm to see his Mom.
My Dad had the biggest hugs. But I will never forget the hugs to his Mom. Grandma Martin was a tiny woman with the strongest arms ever, and even she could not match my Dad’s hugs.
And my Dad was demanding. He insisted that we do well in school. Participate in sports. Have excellent manners. Probably do everything he did not have a chance to do. He provided a warm home. But most important, love. Love that cannot be measured.
Well, today is Veterans Day. And I miss my Dad. He died in 1975, too young. Too soon. He never saw any of his grandchildren. But we all know he is watching from heaven. Every moment of each day.
I am so proud of my Dad’s service to our country, and I hope the flags are flying today in heaven. Soar, Dad… just like your Mom wanted you to.
I love you, Dad. And I am so proud of you. I honor you today, and all of the Veterans who have devoted their lives unselfishly to our country.
Hopefully, today, all of you heroes will see a sea of red, white and blue.