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The Long Road Back to My Father

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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When I was growing up, in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, I used to go to the family cedar chest, kneel on the floor, and lift the lid on the sacred family treasures. I still remember the sweet, pungent odor of baby clothes, yellowed letters with a distinctive fountain pen ink, black-and-white snapshots with zigzag edges, curly locks from a baby’s first haircut. I knew then, these things’ importance to my mother, the keeper of the chest, and somehow to me as well.

But usually I carefully bypassed those layers of memories to get to the newspaper clippings that reported my father’s tragic death at age 26. A year or so after my newlywed parents were stationed at Smoky Hill Air Force Base in Salina, Kansas, I was born. When I was 18 months old, and my mother was pregnant with my sister, my father was killed when his B-47 crashed on takeoff. My mother moved us back to their home state of Florida, and my sister was born there.

Over the years, try as I might, I could not conjure any image of my father. He came only through my mother’s stories and the newspaper details of his death. Though at that young age I had no idea of the significance of his sacrifice for his country, I knew I was proud of the man that was my father. I would stare at the picture of him in his Air Force uniform and imagine a bright light shining on him in heaven.

Years passed, my mother remarried, and we relocated to Texas. I always had access to that cedar chest, and as I grew older I understood a little more about the power of my father’s life and death for my own life. I came to take great pride in the woolen U.S. flag that had draped his casket, but a veil of mystery still surrounded him. I didn’t know my father. And we had never returned to the place of my birth and his death.

More years passed. I was 45 years old when somehow my mother received an invitation to return to Salina for a reunion of my father’s bomb squadron. "Do you think we should go?" she asked me. I knew that we had to go. We were both a little nervous as we drove, feeling certain we would walk into a room knowing no one, known by no one.

The moment we entered the room, we were home. Men and wives came forward to embrace us, eager to reunite with us after 44 years! Airmen who witnessed my father’s crash remembered it as if it was yesterday, and wept with me as they gently shared every detail. Through those wonderful men I learned how loved and respected my father had been. I also learned about the caliber of those who serve our country through the armed forces. And I am grateful to God for the pilgrimage that led me back to the one whose picture lay inside that sacred cedar chest.
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