(Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared on The Tentacle on May 21, 2008. It is a tribute to Mr. McLaughlin’s father and all those who served our nation in the armed forces.)
Even when he was deep into his Alzheimer’s state, Dad always seemed to know when it was Memorial Day – Decoration Day, as he called it. I guess it might have been the war movies that showed constantly on the television that clued him in, or maybe he just knew.
We would get dressed up, or as dressed up as one gets here at the beach, and we would ride down to the American Legion for the ceremonies. The color guard would present the flags. Somebody would make a short speech.
Then we would go outside to the flagpole where taps was played from a boom box. Everyone would be at attention. Cars would blow horns. And drivers would yell words of encouragement. We would go back inside and eat.
Dad would sit among the other 90 year olds, who were also in various stages of dementia. Not much was spoken, just a nod of the head as comrades in arms. They sat lost in their thoughts in a period of time I could not fathom, only respect.
Dad was a real war hero. He was shot down over the Polesti oil fields in Romania while attempting to deny Hitler fuel for the tanks. He parachuted out of the plane and landed in the only tree for miles, he often said with a grin.
With the help of the resistance, he walked across what was then Yugoslavia to the Adriatic Sea, where he was picked up by our forces. He would have two more airplane crashes after that. I don’t know of anyone who has survived three plane mishaps.
His career would lead him into computers where he figured out how to use those behemoths in the defense of our country. In those days they were the size of a huge room. His career would lead him to the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to my complete amazement, a vote for George McGovern.
As long as I can ever remember Dad carried this poem in his wallet and I read it at his funeral. I would like to share it:
And the great God of flying men
Will smile at them kind’ a of slow
As they stow their crates in the hanger
On the field where flyers go
Then they will look upon His face
The almighty flying Boss
Whose wingspan fills the heaven
From Orion to the Cross
We put Dad’s ashes into the Atlantic with a Coast Guard escort. At the Worcester County War Memorial at Ocean Pines we purchased a small square stone that was placed in the ground with others in the Air Force section.
Yesterday, I went over to look at it for the first time. It had his name, life dates and “From Orion to the Cross” on it.
I looked up at the cloudy sky and said, “How’s that Dad?”
Then, the clouds parted and a shaft of sunlight streamed down on the little memorial, and me. (I am not making this up.)
This lasted for about 30 seconds.
Pure coincidence, I thought!
Or was it?
Maybe, just maybe…….
Yes, it was!