It has almost been 50 years since I’ve seen my father. That morning he was there, eating breakfast with us. He kissed my mom, walked out the door to go to work, and that’s the last time we saw him alive. He was a sailor in the Navy, and that morning he underwent an elective minor outpatient surgical procedure on his ship, suffered cardiac arrest, and died. He was 32.
I was only 12 years old, and my memory of him is fading. I remember a few details, but as time goes on, they are getting fuzzier. The problem with the passing of time is that the people who can help me remember details about him are gone too. So I’m left with what I can remember. Because I was so young, I didn’t have the capacity to know him from the perspective of an adult. All my memories of him are remembered through the eyes of a kid.
I remember him as being quiet and very disciplined. The Navy was all he knew, and he had given over 20 years of active service when he died. Sometimes I felt like I was in the Navy, too, especially when I misbehaved. My dad ran a tight ship.
Many of my childhood memories didn’t include him, because he was gone. A lot. He served on several ships, and at least once a year his ship went to sea, which meant he was gone for a few months at a time. Then he served a tour in Vietnam that lasted an entire year. He was an electrician, and in Vietnam his job was to repair damaged PT boats on the Mekong River.
My father was tall and thin. Although I’m sure I’ve become a taller and larger man than he was, it’s hard imagining him to be smaller than me. I remember the first time I heard him swear, or saw him drink a beer. I was a surprised. But I also remember smiling.
I don’t remember my dad being affectionate or telling me that he loved me. My mom spent her lifetime reinforcing the fact that he loved all of us dearly, but what I wouldn’t give to remember him telling me himself. Those missing words have had a direct impact on my own parenting and grand-parenting methodology.
Although I don’t remember many details about my father, I remember admiring him, and I wanted to be like him. And I still do. I can still see him in his dressed uniform. I remember his steel jaw and his blazing eyes. I was proud of him then, and I’m proud of him now.
I would love to introduce him to my sons- his grandsons- and to my own grandchildren. I wish he could have seen them and known them. I think he would have been proud of how his family turned out.
As time marches on, I fear that my father’s life will blend into history, and one day his life will be forgotten. I want a record of his life to exist- a marker that will testify that my father lived and died and served his country with distinction. That’s what Memorial Day is all about. And that’s what this blog post is about.
In the mountains of Western North Carolina, there is a small Methodist Church with a cemetery in the back. Among the rows of grave stones, there is a flat bronze marker with these words:
GEORGE B GASPERSON
CWO UNITED STATES NAVY
OCTOBER 5, 1938 JANUARY 7, 1971
Love you, dad, and thank you for serving our country. I haven’t forgotten you.
There might be someone in your life- your parent, sibling, cousin, friend- who you would like to memorialize this Memorial Day by mentioning their name. I invite you to use the comment section to record their name and any background info you choose.