My dad passed away last week and today we held his memorial service with full military honors in De Young Shoreline Chapel in Stockton California. The past couple of days leading up to this have been hectic as we thought of things that we needed to do for the service and it was a team effort to get everything done. My brother had handled the initial tasks immediately following dad’s death early Wednesday morning and when I arrived I helped coordinate the honors with the funeral director, the Navy Chaplain performing the service and the Military honors team leader as well as digging through dad’s briefcase to try to find life insurance policies as well as try to deal with the Social Security Administration on the phone, which if you read my last post you’ll know exactly what I went through dealing with the cheerful automated attendant from the pits of Hell.
With that being said we went to work yesterday, my brother and his wife took care of everything for the reception while one of my sister in laws’ aunts burned a CD with some of dad’s favorite music by Willie Nelson, Anne Murray and John Denver along with renditions, I think my the Naval Academy Chorus of Anchors Aweigh and the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save. The fact that she did this on short notice took a great weight off of my shoulders as I dug through well over a thousand and probably close to 2000 photos to put together two collages representing the fullness of dad’s life as best as I could do. After laying them out last night I knew that there were some that needed to be reproduced and since I am not at home where the Abbess has all of her high speed gear to do such work off to the local Target I went to have the kind people there use their Kodak machines to digitalize and print them of course after I picked up my large cup of 7-11 French Vanilla Coffee with French Vanilla creamer and Splenda, I do think that they should be paying me for advertising right now but until that time I have no problem mentioning them because I do like their coffee. The young Mexican girl helping me was a gem, she knew exactly what to do and in no time had all of the pictures digitalized, printed and burned on CDs even as I realized that I needed a decent pair of white socks to wear with my summer white uniform to which I walked over to the Kohl’s down the way, picked up my socks and went back to pick up the CDs which were ready when I returned. The girl wished me well as I thanked her again and as I left as is my custom I told her to be safe and added “after all this is Stockton and I lived here when they invented the drive-by” to which she thanked me, laughed and said that she would try to be safe.
After that is was the usual chaos that families experience trying to get ready and out the door, what to wear for my mom and to finish up the collages, get a shower and get into my Summer Whites, or as I refer to them around my Marine friends as the FWUs or Faggoty White Uniform as Colonel Nathan R Jessup (Jack Nicholson) referred to them in the movie A Few Good Men but I digress.
My mom and I got the funeral home chapel about 1215 and Captain Gerry Seely, a Navy Chaplain, the members of the Naval Military Honors team, a Captain with Fleet Marine Force experience, two Commanders, a Naval Flight Officer and a Surface Warfare Officer, a BUC or Chief Builder, a Seabee Chief as well as a Electronics Mate First Class who served as the bugler. Chaplain Seely was in his Summer Whites matching me and the Honors team in their Full Dress Whites. Additionally a ceremonial honors team from Travis Air Force Base composed of a young Sergeant and three young Airmen in their Air Force Dress Blues looking very sharp were there for the rendering of honors, the ceremonial rifle volleys that would precede the playing of Taps.
As friends and family gathered I worked with the Honors team, Chaplain Seely and the funeral director to ensure that everyone was read in on the sequence of events before the service. My mom was taken by the number of military personnel present to honor my dad this last time. The service began promptly as scheduled with Chaplain Seely offering the condolences of the Chief of Navy Chaplains Admiral Bob Burt as well as the Deputy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain of the Marine Corps Rear Admiral Mark Tidd. Chaplain Seely did a marvelous job in weaving the intersections of my dad’s life together with the understanding of the Navy being a family, discussing my dad’s career while talking about Navy life, particularly the effect on families of the frequent moves and separations cause by deployments as well as the specialness and importance of dad being a Chief. You see in the Navy the Chief Petty Officer occupies a unique position, it has been said and is largely true that Chief’s run the Navy, good Chiefs teach, mentor and discipline young sailors in the ways of the Navy, their rating and life. Gerry also shared about our hope in Christ the hope of the resurrection and the faith that we have that Jesus has gone before us to prepare a place for us as well as send the Holy Spirit to comfort us. He did the service so well you would have thought that he knew dad and obviously as he shared with us felt the connections with dad through service on similar aircraft carriers, duty stations and hobbies.
He invited Jeff and I to say some words about dad and I led off talking about what dad meant to me, how good of a father he was, how he inspired me in my military career and brought me to love the game of baseball. Jeff talked about how dad influenced him in values and teaching him right from wrong, I do think that despite being the clergyman that I probably was more of a pain in the ass to my dad as despite for all of my innocent charm and introversion I am a bit of a rebel, believing that while there are definitely 10 Commandments most everything else is more of a suggestion and that there are a lot of gray areas. Jeff is a teacher and definitely a no-nonsense kind of guy much like my dad, though I think Jeff is a bit more serious than dad who could be a jokester and was much of the time which is where I think that I get some of my humor from. I think that Jeff is like dad in a lot of ways and me in some, but both of us benefited from his love, care, discipline and values. It is funny how much Jeff and I am alike despite our age differences and much of that has to be from the influence of dad. Jeff talked about dad’s love of golf as well as his ability to sit down and enjoy a beer and go to the casinos in the area. That reminded me of something that both of us had not mentioned which was my dad’s love of horse racing and going to the track to bet on “the ponies.” Jeff has taken that up having a part interest or ownership in a thoroughbred horse which races at Santa Anita.
So many memories came back during the service as well as while putting the collages together, memories of good times and the realization that dad was always there for us. After Jeff concluded his remarks Chaplain Seely talked about what we in the military call “PCS orders” and what in dad’s passing from this life was his final PCS move to heaven where he will wait for us. It was touching the way that he made that connection in terms of the military service. When his remarks were concluded Eternal Father Strong to Save was played followed by the military honors which were led off by the Captain leading the detail explaining what would happen. Following this the two Commanders took the flag from the stand on which they were displayed and unfolded them laying them out flat. The room was called to stand and active and former military asked to render the appropriate salutes as the rifle volleys were fired and Taps was played. Following taps we were asked to be seated while the two Commanders then very sharply refolded the flag with great preciseness and passed it off to the Chief who came up and after rendering honors to the flag moved deliberately to my mom, took a knee and presented the flag on behalf of a grateful Navy, Nation and his and dad’s fellow Chief Petty Officers.
There were a good number of people there, some that I knew and others that I had heard about from my mom, dad or Jeff. My friend from high school and Navy Junior ROTC Jeff Vanover was there with his family as were numerous others. The sad thing is that when you get to be my parent’s age many of their closest friends have either passed away or are no longer capable of traveling however my mom’s phone has been ringing off the hook while her e-mail in box and snail mail box are filled with expressions of sympathy and friendship.
To all of those that attended the services today as well as those that have helped in various ways during my dad’s long and difficult battle with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, especially all of my mom and dad’s friends and Jeff’s wife Melissa’s family those present and those separated by distance or physical affliction I offer you my thanks. To the members of the Navy Military Honors team for Northern California and honors team from Travis Air Force Base you were all great. I have seen many teams and yours was outstanding. To Chaplain Gerry Seely your kind words of comfort and the celebration of my dad’s life went beyond measure. To the Chief that presented my mother Old Glory thank you, it meant so much to her and I know to my dad that a Chief presented this token of the Nation’s gratitude. To my boss Chaplain Jesse Tate who got the ball rolling to make this happen, Admiral Burt and Admiral Tidd for your support, to my fellow Chaplains, fellow shipmates and all of my friends around the world that have offered words of encouragement and prayer I cannot thank you enough. The same is true for my Bishop and fellow priests as well as the Rector and parishioners of St James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia where I worship.
Dad was a good husband, father and grandfather. He was a devoted friend to many, loyal shipmate to others and a man who worked hard to set his family up for success in life. I miss him, I have for years because of Alzheimer’s disease, but now while I am thankful that he is no longer suffering nor trapped in the shell that once was him, I miss him. Maybe someday like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella, I too will be able to once again have a catch with my dad on the lush green diamond in heaven.
Since this is starting to sound like one of those actors that can’t stop talking after getting an Oscar, so I will just say thank you and God bless. My mom appreciates everything as does my brother. Keep us in your prayers as we attempt to help mom navigate the sea of paperwork generated by various bureaucracies both governmental and the private sector that she will need to work with over the coming days and weeks. I return to Virginia on Wednesday.
Peace and blessings,