My father enlisted in the Navy at 17 to fight in the war. He was raised in a troubled family and experienced the hardships of the depression. I remember the stories of him having to collect the coal that fell off of the coal cars on the train tracks. He served proudly, as did his brother Arthur in the South Pacific during those years of hardship and loss. He stayed in the Navy for 7 years, capping it off with a trip down to Antarctica with the 2nd expedition led by Adm. Richard Byrd in 1946. He was a radioman on Byrd’s flagship. He also had served a year in occupied Japan, immediately after the end of the war.
He came back to the States and embedded himself into the post war world with his wife, my mother; starting a family and working hard to make a living. I came along much later in his life; when he was 36, but that really didn’t matter. From my earliest memories he was so patriotic. He loved his country so much and shared it with me every day. The example of the life he lived was one of integrity. He always stood up for what was right, and was the most generous man. He was one of those guys that the expression “He’d give the shirt right off of his back was written for. He would pick up hitch hikers and buy them lunch. He taught me so many lessons: my favorite was “I don’t care what you do in life, I don’t care if you clean toilets; just do your best:” He was one man whose advice I always listened to.
He was rough around the edges, not perfect at all, and salty once in a while, but he was an intense man of unwavering faith. He was religious and diligent in his duties to God and once again a good example for a son. When I went to church, I would always make sure I was sitting next to him. I would watch his large hands on the back of the pew in front of us as he used it for support. He would sing hymns in a deep voice, I was proud of him. When I told him I was going to enlist in the U.S. Coast Guard; following in his footsteps, it was bittersweet. He was proud that I was to serve my country, but a little disappointed it was not with the Navy.
As I grew older my fondness continued to grow, but we would spend less and less time together. I eventually found the girl of my dreams and I brought her home to visit so my folks could “try her out”. My Father fell in love with my bride to be; my southern belle. We soon were married to start our own family and my visits were limited to every year or two. When I received the phone call from Mom that my Pops had cancer, I was heartbroken. We had to do something, we had to fix this. The doctor gave dad 6 months to live and he did for all 6 months. He suffered and offered it up to God for his children among other meaningful things.
Since I lived a day’s ride from home I could only visit a few times during his ordeal; when I received the call that he was in his last days I rushed home. When I got there I found him in a hospital bed in the living room of our home sleeping. I sat beside him all night holding his hand and talking to him. In the morning, the family stood around him singing, praying and speaking to him. He opened his eyes and I got right into his face to ensure we connected. When his beautiful blue eyes locked onto mine, I looked deep within. His eyes seems to say “I love you” to me. So I told him I loved him, that he did a good job, and that he could go to God now. My father, Richard Alvin Johnson, passed away a few minutes later; he was gone, but not really; he is still living in my fond memories of him. He was a good, kind and decent man who loved his country and built a foundation in his children. He helped build me into the man I am today. I love you and miss you Pops!