Friday, May 8, 2009

My Father, the passing of a Legend

I remember a cold and frightening Christmas day. I think it was 1982. I was twelve and we were all having a find time opening presents. My little sister got a pair of plastic skates and felt quite a hurry needed to open them. My little brother wanted things open to, so my father felt a bit hurried and momentarily forgot the importance of knife safety. He slipped and plunged the nearly three inch blade into his right upper and inside thigh. I had gone into the kitchen to do the morning dishes when he came in and landed on the tile floor. He ordered me to find his belt in the master bedroom and bring it to him. Time was priceless and seconds meant life. He was bleeding out. My stepmother ran around the house in sheer panic and I stopped halfway down the hall. I realized that I was never very good and finding things when sent for them and discovered that I had a faster way. So I bolted back to the kitchen and took off my own belt. He instructed me on where to put it and to pull it tight with all my strength. I thought I was going to break it, but it held. A neighbor drove my father to the hospital at break neck speeds. I later learned that if I had gone to search for that other belt, he would not have lived. As it was he almost lost his leg, but live he did, leg and all. Nicking the femeral artery really isn't enough to take down my father anyway. As of April 2, 2009; it took the combo of two forms of cancer with complications from Agent Orange to take him from us. Yes, he is gone, but certainly never to be forgotten.

My father served his country in Vietnam, one of the cruelest wars in history. If you saw him, you might be surprised that they let him jump out of planes and helicopters. I'm 5'11 and stood a full head taller than he by my teens. They weren't going to let him jump either. They told him he was too small and too light to bring a parachute down effectively in combat. Well, he wouldn't hear of that and forced the issue. His lead drill instructor finally got tired of it all and issued him a challenge. Back in those days, military training got away with a lot more than now. He told my father, if he could beat his platoon's largest man in hand to hand combat, he would make him a paratrooper that day. The story goes on to add that the largest man in his platoon spent ten days in the infirmary.

On March 6, 1967 he jumped out of a helicopter into Warzone D for Operation Silver City. He survived a 4 hour grueling battle that went all the way to over an hour of hand to hand combat. I don't know how many missions he went on, but I do know the tales they told of him long after he came home.

His platoon earned eight Presidential Citations before their tour was finished. They were heroes, all of them. Dad came home a decorated soldier with those citations, purple hearts, bronze and silver stars. He earned them each in blood and honor.

My father operated the platoon radio. Because of his size, he got elected for a few other jobs too. One in particular killed many a brave soldier as the most deadly job of all; the tunnel rat. Enemy soldiers liked to hide in narrow underground tunnels laced with booby traps, explosives, snakes, scorpions, spiders and rats. Reports suggest that the tunnels were too small for a rifle and uncontrolled pistol fire could discharge hidden explosives. That meant that the preferred weapon for the tunnel rat was a knife. So my father descended into these deadly narrow tunnels to dismantle explosives and traps and kill enemy soldiers while trying not to upset the native wildlife (or it would kill him). He did this over and over again, for his fellow soldiers and his country. My father looked Death in the eye socket, shook its bony hand and said: "You'll have to catch me later, I have work to do."

When his platoon got bored they mounted 50 calibur machine guns through the noses of helicopters so that the pilots could do some shooting with the rest of them. They took apart cases of Claymore mines and packed the c4 in the bottoms of three oil barrels. They filled those barrels in with concertina wire, scrap metal and bullets. Then they set them out and waited for an enemy platoon they were told was going to pass them. The blast erased the enemy platoon and enough foliage and trees to play some football.

My father cared alot about those he defended. On one day he avenged a small child from after a sniper's bullet took his little life. The boy had just been praising American soldiers for coming to his village in a time of need. It was the last thing that sniper ever did.

At the very worst of it all, enemy soldiers caught him and his companions on a patrol. They wanted the radio codes and killed all of his friends to try and force my father to hand them over. Not only did he refuse, but when one of his captors sat too close to his little bamboo cage, he killed them all and escaped with the remains of his fallen brothers. The story says that he wandered the jungle for two days before walking into an Australian encampment.

For duty, honor, and all of us, my father went where angels fear to tread.

When he got home, he took leadership of a motorcycle brotherhood for veterans called, The Screaming Eagles. Thats about when I came along (1970). These men were larger than life and did things you would only see on TV. Yes, they were crazy things, but amazing too.

My father always taught others and was generous with his advice. Not only that, but he was usually right. Everyone knew they could count on John Wilde for just about anything at all. He knew how to fix things and do things that most people never thought of. I guess that's why he became an aerospace engineer.

He was a man of teaching. He taught me the first steps of how to defend myself and started me in the martial arts. He taught me strategic thinking with a chessboard from around age 4. He's the reason I became a survivor instead of a suicide statistic.

He was a man of accomplishment. He saved the aerospace industry millions of dollars. When the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, he was one of the men who showed them how to fix it, so it wouldn't happen again.

He always tried his hardest when it came to his family. All he ever really wanted was for all of us to be happy.

I know I've told you how my stepmother abused me and I finally left home at age 14. That's all true, and my father lived with years of guilt as a result. I'm so glad I got the chance to tell him that I held nothing against him. I wanted him to know that I did not consider him at fault. For that matter I made it to the good places in my life because of what he taught me. I know it didn't look like it sank in, but it did. Not everyone gets that chance, so I am thankful for it.

Everything I put up with through those hard times, I did for my father. I hold him at fault for nothing.

It is my prayer that he be escorted to a reward in Heaven by Jesus Christ himself and that angels look after his needs. May he find himself at peace, finally.

Don't worry about me, Dad. I'm forging forward like you taught me. You go on now, I know you'll be a legend on the other side.

No comments: