My Unknown Soldier

Guest post: A unique connection between Jessica (Granddaughter of a Vietnam Veteran) and Tracey (Daughter of a Vietnam Veteran) who owns this particular blog- My father’s Notebook. Learn more about this new connection from Jessica’s perspective. 

My Unknown Soldier
by Jessica Zumhingst

It is quite a strange feeling to have such a strong connection to someone you never got to meet.  To never really know anything about them, but to always have a curiosity and longing to know more about their life.  For the past 25 years of my life, this has been my relationship with my maternal grandfather.

As a young girl, I didn’t think too much about why I never got the opportunity to meet my mom’s dad.  I am an only child, as is my mother, so it is not like the topic came up all the time at huge family gatherings.  Nobody ever really talked about my grandfather’s death all that much.  All I knew is that he died serving our country.

Clevenger_William_Henry_ April 26, 1969.My grandfather was William Henry Clevenger, a Sergeant Major in the United States Army.  I remember the day that I finally took the time to closely inspect the various medals that my mom had displayed in the living room.  This was the day that I first longed to know more about my grandfather and his life.

My mom didn’t talk about her father all that much.  He passed when she was just a freshman in college.  She would mention him in stories about her childhood, but I never really inquired about his time in the Army. I knew it was a painful subject for my mom and I didn’t want to upset her.  I decided to look to the Internet in my pursuit to know more.

In 2002, I found the Virtual Wall website.  I saw a picture of my grandpa, the same picture that was framed with his medals in my living room. I wrote a short quote from a patriotic song.  I was only 14 at the time and I didn’t know what else to write.  I set up my email address as the point-of-contact for his memorial.  About a year later, I was brought back to the website to find a post from Colonel Carl M. Mott Jr. about my grandfather.  Along with kind words about serving with Sergeant Major William H. Clevenger, he included a photo of the two of them.  This was my first small glimpse of my grandfather’s role in the Army.  According to Colonel Mott Jr., my grandfather was a “natural communicator” and the “finest Sergeant Major [he had] ever known.”

My own father enlisted in the Navy when he was just 18 years old and by this time in my life I was old enough to listen to his stories about Vietnam.  He told me what life was like in Vietnam and explained to me what his role and my grandfather’s role was over there.  My dad also told me about the letter his mother sent him telling him that my mom’s father had been killed. I knew that I could never begin to understand the pain that my mother had gone through as a young woman.

During the following years, I did gain the courage to ask my mom more questions about my grandpa and to explore the various websites that I found on the Internet regarding the war.  I never got the chance to visit the actual Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., but I did visit various traveling walls and took rubbings of my grandfather’s name.  My childish curiosity had transformed into pride. I may have not known much about my grandpa, but I did know one thing: I was proud to be his granddaughter.  I was determined to honor him and tried to do so in various ways.  I became more vocal about my connection to war and my grandfather.  I wrote a number of poems and research papers about WWII and the Vietnam War for my schoolwork in high school. Videos and books about war were now of interest to me.  I later went to college and became a teacher.  Every time a new school year would begin, I would consciously take the time to talk to my students about the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem and all about the sacrifices our soldiers make so that we can be free.

This past Veteran’s Day, the same day as my 26th birthday, I typed in my grandfather’s name online in hopes of finding a new story or photo posted of him.  Boy did I find a surprise!  I found a blog written by Tracey Wolfe about her father, Glen “Pete” Johnson.  Mr. Johnson arrived in Vietnam at the young age of 19. I read Tracey’s blog about looking for a certain name on the Wall- a man that her father had looked up to and considered a father figure during his time overseas.  That name was William H. Clevenger.

I couldn’t believe what I had stumbled upon! Her beautifully written blog detailed how her father had kept a piece of paper with my grandfather’s name on it in his wallet and how she and her family had searched to find his name on the memorial.  She also shared her father’s writing about the morning my grandfather was killed and how her father was the one who had found his body outside the bunker.  I immediately called my mother and read her the blog post.  It was hard to read some of those words out loud while fighting back the tears.  At first, my mom was quiet on the phone.  I knew the words had touched her.  She was just as surprised as I was.  I read her my response to Tracey’s post and told her that I would let her know if anything else was posted.

Katie&Jessica2It was then that I received an email from Thuy asking if it was okay if she gave my contact information to Tracey and her sister.  She told me that they would like to correspond with me.  I was a bit hesitant, only because I did not feel like I had much information to offer, but I told Thuy that it was fine with me.  Tracey contacted me via email a short while later.  She told me more about her family and the amazing man that her father was.  I gave Tracey my mom’s contact information and she contacted my mom as well. Tracey’s mother, Sally, has also shared such touching stories with us about her young husband leaving for Vietnam just weeks after they were married.  Reading their stories has made me both laugh and cry and I feel so blessed to have connected with such wonderful people.

Words cannot express how much this newfound connection has meant to my mother and I. Both sides agree that our angels in heaven definitely had a hand in it!  For the first time, my mom and I are able to have in-depth conversations about her childhood and my grandfather’s life.  I have learned so many things about the both of them.  In a way, our connection to Tracey and her family has started the healing process for both of us. I am so glad that my mom and I can finally talk about something she has kept bottled up for so many years.  As for me, I never realized that I had anything to heal from.  I guess in a way I did.  I would like to take a moment to share some of the information I have learned about my grandfather and his service to our country.

William Henry Clevenger was born in 1919 in Columbus, Indiana. He was an incredibly bright child with a bit of a rebellious side. He had 4 siblings, 3 sisters and a brother, but when he was young his mother moved with his siblings and left him to stay with his aunt and uncle. My mom thinks this was because he was a little “hard to handle.” He graduated from high school when he was only 14.  Like I said…I have been told that he was VERY smart (he was the kind of person that could do freakishly long math problems in his head…a gene his granddaughter did not inherit!) He actually joined the Army when he was only 16 years old, even though he said he was 18. When the army found out that he was not 18, his aunt was able to sign and give him permission to stay.  For about 30 years, the Army was his home.  He served in WWII, the Korean Conflict, and Vietnam.  My mom thinks he stayed in the Army so long because it was the one constant in his life and he felt secure there.

My mom, Katie Clevenger, was born in 1950 at Fort Devin in Massachusetts.  She moved all over the United States as a child, which was tough for her because she never felt like she had the time to really get accustomed to any one school.  In 1964-65, my grandpa went overseas to Germany.  According to my mother, my grandfather enjoyed going to Germany more than anywhere else.  My mom and my grandma were going to move there, but there was no available housing for them and my mom would have had to go to a boarding school.  When my grandpa returned to the states, the family moved around a lot.  Throughout my mom’s childhood, they lived in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Kansas, and Hawaii.  My grandpa spent some time working at the Pentagon when they lived in Alexandria, Virginia.  Meanwhile, my grandma held different government jobs at the army bases and one at an air force base.  They were able to settle in Seymour, Indiana because my grandpa taught ROTC about an hour north at Indiana University. After that, he was sent to Vietnam. He was stationed at Tay Ninh Base Camp.

According to my mom, my grandpa never talked about Vietnam or anything having to do with war. He kept that part of his life to himself. He would write letters, but they were always short and to the point. On the morning of June 6th 1969, an attack took place on the camp at Tay Ninh. The camp was hit with over 200 rounds of rockets and mortars.  The base suffered shrapnel damage and some buildings caught on fire. My grandfather, SGM William H. Clevenger, was gravely wounded and could not be saved. When he was killed, my mom was only a freshman at Ball State University (she later became a second grade teacher for 37 years). My grandfather was 48 years old and would have been eligible to return home to my mother and grandmother just two months later.  His name now appears on Panel 23W Line 084 of The Wall.

My pride for my grandfather has only grown with each new piece of information I have learned.  I have always been proud to be his granddaughter, but I feel like my connection to him has deepened.  Every morning when I say the Pledge of Allegiance with my Kindergarten students, I think of him.  Every time I see a flag flying on a front porch, I think of him.  Every night when I lay my head down on my pillow with my husband and my dog, I think of him.  I am thankful for his sacrifice and the sacrifice that all the brave men and women that serve our country make.  I can only hope that my grandpa is looking down with as much pride for me as I have for him.

I would also like to express my gratitude for Tracey Wolfe and her entire family. Thank you for your heartfelt words and for sharing your experiences and stories with my mother and I.  Also, thank you to the Thuy Smith International Outreach for making this connection possible. God Bless you all!

Related Post (Tracy’s Reflection) My Father’s Notebook, One Name on the Wall

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My Father’s Notebook: Christmas in Vietnam

Me & DadMy Father’s Notebook:  Christmas in Vietnam

The holiday season has always been my favorite time of year.  Growing up in a Christian family, I have such fond memories of Sunday school programs, family gatherings with lots of food and treats, candlelight service on Christmas Eve, and a long vacation from school to play with all those new toys.  Some of my best memories of the holidays are the ones that took place in our home:  putting up the tree, helping my Mom, Sally, to bake cookies and other traditional Norwegian goodies like krumkakes and rosettes, wrapping presents, and watching Christmas specials together.  My parents, Glen and Sally Johnson, worked so hard to make these holiday memories and traditions for us.

On some of those cherished days off from school, Dad would come home from work and with a twinkle in his eye call us “school skippers” and ask why we weren’t in school.  Because it was winter, and Dad’s off-season, he wasn’t working nearly as much.  So the holidays also meant more time with Dad.  Mom, my sisters, and I would spend entire days baking up Christmas goodies.  Mom had to remind us all from time to time to keep our “snitching” to a minimum, as we needed to save the cookies for later.   Dad was wise and could get around this rule by milling around the kitchen, watching and waiting for one to turn out not-quite-right.  “Let me get this one out of the way, for you,” he’d say.

But like all aspects of life, the burden of his service in Vietnam was ever-present.  We loved the twinkling of the Christmas lights, and Mom would pack as many sets onto the tree as it would hold.    Dad was a very easy-going person, and could tolerate more than any other person I know.  But one thing he could not tolerate was blinking lights.  In fact, he preferred they be off altogether, and if he was in the room alone, he’d unplug the tree.

I had always assumed he simply found the lights distracting or perhaps wanted to conserve energy.  Mom knew the truth, though.  Flashing lights triggered memories of the war.   The vast majority of fighting at Tay Ninh Base Camp and at Buell Fire Support Base occurred under cover of darkness.  Both sides of the fight utilized tracer rounds, colored rounds interspersed with the regular rounds to help determine if the rounds were hitting their intended targets and to adjust their aim if they were not.  The night sky was streaked with red and green lights as the bombs fell around them.  So the flashing lights of 4th of July fireworks and even simple Christmas lights can be unbearable.

Christmas in Vietnam, 1968

It was early December of 1968 that 19-year-old Glen Johnson arrived in Vietnam.  Within a couple of weeks, Dad was settling in to Tay Ninh Base Camp in Southeast Vietnam.  It was his first Christmas away from his family.  The memories of that Christmas was so vivid that three decades later, as he recorded his memories of Vietnam in his simple notebook, his account of that Christmas.  It reads as if he had written it while he was in Vietnam.  This is what he wrote:

“Well, maybe cause of lack of snow and 1 day no different than the next, Christmas has gone by.  Repairs during the day and watch for Charlie at night.  They do have a chapel type building in camp here but we forget its even Sunday and a little busy to get there anyway.  So every once in a while the Chaplin gets to this end of the base camp and we have church on whatever day it is when he gets here.  Being that it’s still close to Christmas he wants to sing Christmas songs.  I have seen before on TV, Bob Hope shows and the guys crying.  Now I know why.  I can’t sing anyway, but when they sang Silent Night, no words come out and I see the guys here in church have tears in their eyes “too.”  It’s good to hear from home and the brownies and cookies from Sal.”

Right now, servicemen and women are stationed away from their families this holiday season.  Please remember them and all veterans.  For information on ways to let them know you care during the holidays, you can go to the Red Cross website to learn more about the Holiday Mail for Heroes program at http://www.redcross.org/ca/los-angeles/ways-to-donate/individual-gifts/holiday-mail-for-heroes.

And a great resource for finding ways to help military personnel and their families any time of year is the White House’s Joining Forces program:   http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces/get-involved.  It provides information on how to send messages to servicemen and women, a directory of organizations that help military personnel and their families on both national and local levels, and information and guidance to help citizens to start their own volunteer project.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, or any other holiday, I wish you all great joy, peace, and love this season.

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My Father’s Notebook: One Name on The Wall

My Father’s Notebook:  One Name on The Wall

Eau Claire recently welcomed the Moving Wall, a smaller scale version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial—the Wall.  Held in conjunction with a local organization’s Field of Honor, the Wall stood amongst trees next to a field of hundreds of flags each dedicated to the memory of soldiers who had died since 2001.  Small dog tags attached to each flag bore the names of lost loved ones; three different flags bore the inscription “Glen Johnson, Army”—my Dad.

The day was beautiful, with plenty of sunshine and a light breeze fluttering the hundreds of flags dotting the field.  We walked together as a family towards the large slabs of black, just as we had done nine years ago.  Only this time we did so without Dad.  And this time I knew one of those names etched in the stone.

Taking a rubbing of William H. Clevenger from the Moving Wall in September 2012.  Sgt. Major Clevenger was one of Dad’s superiors, and as Dad said, “He was like a father to us.”

Finding Clevenger

We first visited the Moving Wall when it last stopped in Eau Claire in 2003.  I was so surprised that Dad agreed to go with us—my Mom tells me it took much encouraging.  Dad avoided any discussion of Vietnam, avoided anything that could remind him of his time there.  But somehow he was there with us, and I felt honored to be able to show my respect to him, to other veterans, and to all those whose names appeared on the Wall.

Dad was there, but he stood as far back as he could.  He never touched the Wall, nor got any close than ten yards from it, the anxiety and sadness painfully evident.  But he pulled from his wallet a piece of paper with a name written on it and handed it to us.  With Dad far off waiting, we searched for the name but couldn’t find it.  All these years later, I don’t remember now why we were unable to find it, maybe a misspelling, but we were unable to find the name that day.  I was horribly disappointed, as I so wanted to be able to be able to take an etching to give to Dad.  I know now that it wasn’t meant to be that day; this was just a rehearsal.

In 2007, my sister Melissa and her husband, Shawn, took my parents to Washington, D.C.  With much patience, Dad was able to visit the Wall, the full Memorial.  Though Dad still couldn’t get close enough to touch the Wall, this time they were able to find the name he was looking for:  William H. Clevenger.

Dad arrived in Vietnam at the age of 19 having lost his father from cancer mere months before. So it was understandable that Dad looked up to his superior, Sergeant Major William Clevenger.  Dad was first stationed at Tay Ninh Base Camp with Clevenger, a seasoned soldier who had served in World War II, was Dad’s superior at Tay Ninh Base Camp where Dad was first assigned.  Dad looked up to this man, saying “He was like a father to us.”

In the early morning hours of June 6, 1969, another attack on Tay Ninh Base took place.  Warrant Officer Albert Major of the 187th Aviation Company described it as “a night to remember in Tay Ninh.”  The camp was hit with over 200 rounds of rockets and mortars.  The base suffered shrapnel damage and some buildings started on fire.  It would prove to be a sad day for Dad and his unit.

Decades later, Dad would write about what happened to Sergeant Major Clevenger:

“In the middle of the morning when we didn’t normally get mortar and rockets in base camp, they shot some in and one exploded by our battalion Sgt. Major and killed him.  He was so cut up from shrapnel that they had nothing they could do to save him.”

After Dad’s passing, Mom shared with us that it was Dad who found SGM Clevenger’s body outside the bunker.  William Clevenger was 48 and would have been eligible to return home two months later, in August of 1969.  He left behind a wife, Lois.  His name now appears on Panel 23W Line 084 of The Wall.  You can find out more about him and others who gave their lives at http://www.virtualwall.org.

Many More Than 58,261

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a black wall with 58,261 names is worth a million pictures.  Each of these names brings to my mind pictures of the man or woman represented there, of what their lives were and could have been.  No memorial or statue I have ever seen can compare to the power of the images the Wall brings to my mind.

In his iconic painting “Reflections,” Lee Teter shows an aged veteran touching the Wall while in the reflection lost comrades reach to touch his hand.  And I feel that, too.  Standing before it and resting my hand against the smooth black stone, it feels a thin veil separating the living on this side to all those lost on the other.  I like to imagine Dad standing among the other soldiers behind the Wall.  They had been separated for a few decades, but now they are together sharing a cup of coffee.  And this time, there are no wounds, visible or otherwise.

The Wall represents those 58,261 precious lives lost, but please remember that one name on the Wall represents so very many more lives touched by the war.  For each name on that Wall, countless lives have felt the impact of that life and its loss.  There are the fellow soldiers who served alongside.  There are perhaps medics, nurses, doctors who tried to save this life, even if all that could be done was to say a prayer.    There are the millions who served with them, some who came home with disabilities and illnesses, some with the wounds that cannot be seen, but all who came home changed.

And back home, each name on that Wall represents generations of friends and family that will never be the same.  They were sons, daughters, siblings torn away from their families.  Some were husbands and wives and parents, whose loss leaves a terrible hole.  There are the families left without a husband or wife, son or daughter.   They are the children left without a parent.

When I see the Wall, I am also very thankful.  In Washington, D.C., my brother-in-law Shawn pulled my Dad aside and said, “We’re sure glad your name isn’t up on that wall.”  We are so blessed that Dad came home, so blessed to have had all those years with him.   I am deeply grateful to the fellow soldiers whose friendship, or bravery, or simply commitment to duty, made it possible for Dad to come home.

As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, I can’t look at the Wall and not imagine in some way how life would have been different if Dad’s name had been etched on the Wall.  You see, had my Dad not come home from Vietnam, I would never have been born.  Four of us—Melissa, Eric, Scott, and I—were all born after Dad came home.  Mom and my sister Shelley, who was born while Dad was in Vietnam, would have been left alone.  So you see, I not only owe these men and women my gratitude for my time with my Dad, but for the very chance at life.

The Wall is a moving tribute to the 58,261 precious lives whose names are etched in the stone, but it is also a tribute to the web of people whose lives are forever linked to them.  They are the fellow soldiers, the families, the friends, the spouses, the children.  They are the lives that could have been.   The least that we can do is remember them—all of them.

Related Post- My Unknown Soldier (Reflections from the woman whose grandfather served with Tracey, and who recently discovered this post about her Grandfather)

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[i] Major, Albert A.  1969 Annual Supplement: History of the 187th Aviation Companyhttp://www.187thahc.net/incidents/inident_69.htm (last accessed December 2011).

[ii] U.S. Army Data Survey Center.  Personnel Roster, Active Army Personnel as of 30 April 1969, 0011 FA BN 7th 105T.  1969.  San Francisco, CA.  Page 2.

 

My Father’s Notebook: The Enlistment Question

My Father’s Notebook: The Enlistment Question

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that I was the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, nor a time when I wasn’t very proud of my Dad for his service. I had so many questions about Vietnam and what Dad experienced there, but never seemed to get answers for them. Sometimes I would ask my questions, and Dad would respond with a brief answer and a look of sadness that left me wishing I hadn’t asked.

One question, in particular, had lingered in my mind for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that the opportunity to ask it finally arose. My assignment was to learn more about my family members and then give a speech on my family history. I jumped at the chance to ask Dad the question I most wanted to have answered, “Why did you join the Army knowing you’d probably have to go to Vietnam?”

He paused a moment and then he looked at me and said, “I was young and stupid.” Even though I knew there was so much more to it, I just couldn’t push further. I was too overcome with the desire to protect him from the pain that was so clearly written on his face. Would he have shared more with me then, had I asked? Was I even ready to hear the answers then?

I know now, some twenty years later, why Dad made what seemed to me an impossible decision and one that stood in such contradiction to his gentle nature. And, as it turns out, the reason was far more in line with his nature than I ever imagined. He did it for his family.

Even from a young age, Dad was a caregiver and a protector of those he loved. At five years old he took responsibility for his little sister, the youngest of 9 kids, who he called “Bevie-pie.” By high school he was working on the Dobbs’ farm. He lived and worked with the Dobbs family during the week, doing chores on the farm before riding the bus in to school, then riding back for more chores after school. He never shied away from work.

As his high school graduation neared, so did his wedding to Mom. Dad set about planning his future. His father was very ill, and he felt it his duty and his honor to help support his mother and sister. With his family to support and a new life with his bride-to-be about to start, continuing his education just wasn’t an option financially. My grandfather, Mom’s father, offered Dad their family farm. But Dad knew firsthand the long hours and the stress of farm life, and he didn’t want that for himself or for his family. He also knew factory life was not for him. So as his father’s health deteriorated, he began considering the military.

Dad’s family was not new to military service. His grandfather, Hans, served in the Norwegian army before emigrating from Norway to the United States. His father, Jasper, served in the U.S. Army in the World War I era. Two of his older brothers, Bob & Ron, also served in the military. And, even if he didn’t chose to continue on to a career in the military, it would still provide him financial assistance to continue his education while still supporting his family.

So, with his parents signing to give their permission, Dad signed enlistment papers in 1968. It was a year of many changes. In April, his father, Jasper, passed away. Dad graduated from Colfax High School in May. One week later, on June 1st, my parents were married. Two short weeks later, Dad left for Basic Training in Kentucky.

Dad joined the Army for the same reason he did everything else in his life—he did it for his family. Though he likely made the choice with a certain innocence and naiveté, knowing he took on such an incredible responsibility to make a better life for those he loved makes me even more proud of him. Yes, Dad was young, but I disagree with him on one point: he was far from stupid. At 18, he made the best decision he could have. And in the end, his service allowed him to go on to school and to become an excavator, which he truly loved. And through it all, he took care of his family–of all of us. For this we could not be more thankful nor more proud.

Three generations of Johnsons in the military:  At left,  Hans Johnson, Glen’s grandfather, served in the Norwegian army prior to immigrating to the United States.  At center, Jasper Johnson, Glen’s father,  served in the U.S. Army in the World War I era.  Glen, right, served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971.

Glen worked on the Dobbs’ family’s dairy farm during high school.  His bride-to-be’s father offered the young couple his farm, but he knew firsthand the long hours and stress of farm life, and he didn’t want that for himself or his family.

My Father’s Notebook: The Man Behind the Words

My Father’s Notebook: The Man Behind the Words

My Dad is a difficult person to describe. Not because he’s complicated, but because in words he just seems too good to be true. Who would believe anyone is so amazing as he? Granted I’m very biased. But as we heard many times in the days and weeks after his passing, so many people share our thoughts of his character and kindness and the impact he has made on this world. So before we delve into Dad’s experiences in Vietnam, let me tell you more about this man I’m blessed to call my Dad.
Glen Johnson was born July 3, 1949, on a very hot day in a maternity home in Colfax, Wisconsin. He was the 8th of 9 children. Grandma would take a couple of months to decide on the name “Glen” for him, but by then his siblings had already dubbed him “Pete.” From then on, everyone knew him as Pete. Only Grandma called him Glen, with the exception of Mom on those occasions when she was particularly upset with him.
Dad’s humor was legendary. The kind of wit my teenage self was mortified by, my young adult self found goofy, but my middle-aged self now finds endearing. He took great joy in sharing the latest jokes he had heard. He was partial to a good blonde joke, and being the grandson of Norwegian immigrants, spread the best of the Sven & Oley jokes throughout the family. My sisters and I all married men with Dad’s sense of humor, and when we were together there was much laughter. After one of their zingers, Dad would often look at me and say, “Oh, he’s gooood!”
Dad was an excavator at heart and owned his own business for many years. From the time the ground thawed in the spring until it froze again in the winter, he was at work. Seven days a week he would be at work as the sun rose and not return until after it had set once again. And even then, it wasn’t time to rest yet, as paperwork and phone calls would need his attention.
Even in the winter, the off-season, Dad would be working. Early on he would plow snow and drive oil truck. Later, as his business got busy, he spent most of the winters working on his equipment. Dad would never get rich for all his hard work, but he provided for his family, saw that his children could go to college, and took time to make the life of those around him a little better.
Like generations before him, Dad worked very hard for everything he had. But he gave of him-self and his time as though he were born of great privilege. If one of his customers was having a hard time, he wouldn’t charge them. Dad served as a volunteer firefighter and EMT for the Colfax Fire Department and Rescue Squad, also serving as President of the organization for several years.
After Dad passed away last summer, people from the community came forward with some of the most precious stories. One man, a customer of Dad’s, had lost his young son in a farm accident. Every day after work, Dad would stop in to see if there was anything he could do for them. Sometimes it was just to talk, other times he would help milk cows. Upon their son’s passing, they were given a tree, which the family couldn’t bring themselves to plant even when Dad offered to dig the hole for them. Every night for about two weeks, Dad would ask if it was time yet to plant the tree. But they would always respond, “No, not today.”
Then, early one evening, as Dad was heading home, he saw a beautiful rainbow. He turned his truck around and went right back to the farm. He told them the rainbow was a perfect sign: this was the time to plant the tree. And so the tree found it’s permanent home, and it still thrives there today.
Another lovely story came in a card of sympathy from another former customer of Dad’s. More than a decade earlier, Dad had been working on their farm moving dirt to prepare the site for a new shed. Many years before, this same area had been the site of an old farmhouse and barn. The homeowner had often found bits of glass and even unbroken old bottles around the site.
She wrote, “I jokingly told Pete to try not to run over any of the bottles he might dig up when he was working. When I got home from work that night, there were two unbroken old bottles on my steps. I was so surprised! Pete must have stopped his bulldozer, jumped down and retrieved the bottles for me, if not once, two times. I was so impressed by that little act of kind-ness.”
This one-act of kindness would prove, about five years later, to touch another person. As the homeowner explained, “An 82-year-old woman who lived in that old farmhouse came up here to see what the area looked like since her childhood. Right before she left, I gave her the two bottles that Pete had rescued. Pete’s small act of kindness from years before put a smile on her face as she recognized an old perfume bottle and an old cough syrup bottle from when she was a little girl. Pete was a kind man.”
And so, that was my Dad. He touched so many lives. Mother Teresa once said, “We can do no great things—only small things with great love.” And indeed, that was what Dad spent his life doing for anyone in need, one little tree and one unbroken bottle at a time

Read Tracey’s Other Posts:

My father’s Notebook- The Enlistment Question

My Father’s Notebook- Christmas in Vietnam

My Father’s Notebook- One Name on the Wall

My Father’s Notebook- My Unknown Soldier