Tribute to a fighting man
In observance of Veteran’s day I posted a blog on my Blogger page entitled Our Family of Veterans. As we honor the service and sacrifice of those men and women, as well as that of all veterans, this post is for one in particular; my father.
Dad served in the US Navy through World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and numerous minor conflicts around the globe. He served in what was referred to as the “Rocks & Shoals Navy”. Chief petty officers (CPOs) have always been the backbone of the Navy just as non-commissioned officers are are in any military force. In my dad’s Navy most disciplinary matters were handled by the CPOs. If a sailor had a problem following orders he was invited to the stern of the ship, the fantail, where he and the chief would settled the dispute, stripped to the waist, with bare knuckles. If the chief won the sailor would do as he was told and if the sailor won he would get his way. It was a rare occurrence for the sailor to come out on top and nearly every chief I can remember from the days when I was growing up had a set of scarred knuckles.
My dad was a hard charging, hard drinking American sailor and anyone who had ever been around the Navy could spot him as a CPO in or out of uniform. He served his beloved Navy loyally and faithfully for 26 years and would have stayed in longer but for the turbulence and changes brought about by the war in Vietnam, both in the Navy and the nation. When Admiral Elmo Zumwalt was selected to serve as Chief of Naval Operations one of his first policy changes was the relaxation of grooming standards for enlisted men. With sailors being allowed to grow their hair longer,sport sideburns and mustaches and other changes Dad declared that he "wasn’t serving in any damned hippy Navy!" and he put in his papers to retire. He said it was bad enough having a long haired hippy at home (me) but he wasn’t putting up with it at sea.
Dad and I butted heads over our differences for years but we eventually got most of our problems ironed out. We never did see eye to eye on a lot of issues but we learned to respect each other for the men we were. Then I married Frankie and she really hit it off with Dad. She was responsible for keeping the peace between Dad and me on more than one occasion. We lived with Mom for several years and when our daughter, Laura, came along that was icing on the cake because he adored her. She was Pop Pop’s little darling.
In his later years Dad suffered from many severe medical problems; asbestosis, diabetes, heart disease, emphysema and finally Alzheimer’s disease. During more than one medical crisis he refused to allow paramedics to treat him or take him to the hospital until Frankie asked him to go. He trusted her and she could get him to cooperate when no one else could.
On July 3, 2003 Dad couldn’t breathe, even with the help of the oxygen generator beside his bed. While Frankie called the rescue squad I overrode the limit settings on the machine, giving him all the oxygen it could produce but it just wasn’t enough. The paramedics put him on 100% oxygen from a portable bottle and that helped enough that he was able to argue about going to the hospital. Knowing that the bottle only held a 30 minute supply, Frankie was able to convince him to get in the ambulance and go to the hospital. The doctors told us there was really nothing they could do and Dad only had hours left so they were transferring him to a hospice.
The next morning I took Mom and Frankie to the hospice to see him. I dropped them by the door and went to find a parking space in the crowded lot. Just as I got the doors locked and started up the walk Frankie and Mom came back out. They told me that they had walked into his room where the nurse told them he had been unconscious since he arrived and he was very weak. Frankie took his hand and told him she was there. He opened his eyes, nodded his head and stopped breathing. We don’t know if he even realized Mom was also there but we take comfort in the knowledge that he knew he wasn’t alone as he breathed his last.
I went into the hospital the next day for urgent spinal surgery. When I was released I spent the next several weeks heavily medicated, confined to a recliner and forbidden to even ride in a car. I missed the memorial ceremony when Dad’s ashes were spread from the stern of a boat on his beloved Chesapeake Bay. Between the medication and the pain I was really out of it and the grief never really set in until the following year when we attended a 4th of July fireworks display. The lump in my throat and hollow feeling in my chest that night had little to do with the aerial display. Every year since, those sensations return as we celebrate and I remember. Through the sadness I find comfort that it’s somehow fitting, a man who gave so much in the service to his country should pass away on the anniversary of it’s birth.
Home is the sailor
home from the sea
and the hunter
home from the hill
Arnold Ray Allen CSC, USN (ret.)
1 December 1923 – 4 July 2003
Fair winds and following seas, Chief