Updated: May 24, 2020
I spent a memorable week with my Dad in July 2010. We ate BBQ, laughed, went to Church and put his affairs in order. He had noticeably lost a ton of weight, but his eyes and spirit were strong. Hell, he still had a plan for recovery, and who was I to doubt him; he had already beaten it once.
Just two years earlier he had made the flight to Madrid after famously ringing the Bell at MD Anderson hospital...Cancer free! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house after I recounted his trials at the occasion of my promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. You see my Dad had never missed a promotion or a change of command in my career. He was there at my commissioning. He had flown to Fort Lewis for my promotion to Captain. I was lucky enough to be the honor man and only individual being promoted or recognized when he, my Mom and wife pinned on my Major oak leafs in Houston. And he attended my changes of command in Germany and El Paso.
My Dad was noticeably very proud of me and my military career. Some would say that he was living vicariously through me, helping me move every two or three years, driving UHauls, cutting grass and unpacking boxes. He spent more of his vacation time in torn jeans and old t-shirts because he was there for my family and I every time we changed stations. Heck we even looked forward to moving because we knew Papa would be there to help get us settled. I would highlight that he loved giving his opinion on things especially how I needed to cut the yard, trim the bushes back or set up a room. And I never had the right equipment, I am positive that he and I together helped Home Depot register quarterly profits during our moves. We raked leaves, painted, pressure-washed and as always laughed.
But to say that my military career was something that he was unfamiliar with would not represent the sacrifices that he personally made. My Dad was a Marine. He loved that anchor and globe. He proudly served from 1961 to 1966 during times where service in the Corps wasn’t just physically tough. I proudly display his boot camp graduation picture where he and his bunk mate were noticeably out of place because the color of their skin. But if I were to say that his race defined his service it would not accurately portray his deep feeling of belonging and the unwavering camaraderie that he felt with his fellow Marines his entire life.
He was a member, treasurer, deputy commander and commander of his Disabled American Veterans chapter for over three decades. That five years of service can garner a lifetime of dedicated commitment says something about the Marines - I have to give them that. His service sparked my own reasons for wanting to overcome all of my childhood fears and insecurities to become an Airborne Ranger. I think I also get my drive to strive from Dad. He was never still...he was part of prison a Ministry, he owned a non-profit that employed disadvantaged youth and ex-convicts (his piddlers), he worked for ATT for thirty years in various jobs and people still come up me to tell me how he impacted their lives. He was the kind of guy that gave of his time which as we know is way more valuable than money.
As I write this my wife and I make our annual trip to see him. We’ve done so since he lost his second fight with cancer in October 2010 just weeks after I proudly called him and exclaimed that I hit my 20-year mark of service and a few short months after I saw, hugged and cried with him in July.
To me Memorial Day means no matter what I am doing and no matter where I am at I get on the road, on an airplane or I walk to see my Dad at the National Cemetery in Houston. We have flown from El Paso, Washington, DC, Belgium, San Antonio and now New Braunfels. We do this to remember him and his service, we do it to remember the times when he was there for us and we do it because we know that he would absolutely have done it for us.
Lee Flemming, is a retired Army Colonel currently working in Dallas 3 (DAL3) Fulfillment Center in Dallas, Texas as a Military Pathways Senior Operations Manager. 28-year Army Veteran with extensive operations and management experience. The Boots to Amazon series includes regular installments meant to inform and educate Service Members and the public about transitioning into employment at Amazon.