I come from a family of quiet patriots. We do not fly flags outside of our homes or throw big celebrations on the Fourth of July. We do believe in defending freedom and serving our country.
My father served in the Navy and retired from the Air Force. He was, as far as we know, a third generation military man. His father and grandfather both served in the Navy. My mother’s father, maternal grandfather, and three uncles all served in the British Imperial Army. Mom’s dad was killed in action when she was just four years old.
When my dad was six, he lived in Honolulu, Hawaii. My grandfather was stationed on the U.S.S. San Francisco which, in December of 1941, was in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for cleaning and overhaul. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, sparking the entry of the United States into World War II. Many times over the years, we heard about Dad’s vague memories of that day and he was quite proud of Grandpa’s service on the U.S.S. San Francisco. Dad was a reluctant traveller but had an avid interest in history; he always said that one day he would like to visit the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument to pay his respects to those who served and lost their lives that
A few years ago, my parents were considering a trip in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. There was one clear desired destination: Hawaii. The problem turned out to be that my parents wanted to celebrate with family and it was not possible for us all to travel at that time. Instead of an anniversary trip, there was a small celebration with friends and family.
Years passed, quickly as they do, and soon my mother was celebrating a big birthday. (She would not be pleased if I mentioned which one.) My father was, using his own description, old. Both being in good health and getting around well, I knew we needed to plan a family trip before travel got difficult for them.
On April 21, 2017, my parents, my children, and I boarded a plane bound for Oahu where we would meet up with my sister. We had no definitive plans for what we were going to do, with one exception: we were going to visit the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. The U.S.S. Arizona was sunk in the harbor and serves as a gravesite for Sailors who were unable to escape the battleship. A sign of the bonds that form during military service is the fact that there are burials conducted at the memorial for service members who wish to be laid to rest with their shipmates. The memorial is a solemn, beautiful place to honor those who were killed in service to our country. That day, spent in learning and reverence, was the highlight of Dad’s trip to Hawaii.
Two weeks after returning from vacation, my dad died. It was quick and quite unexpected, leaving my family in shock and grief. A small comfort is that we were able to share such a meaningful experience with him before he left us. So shortly after paying his respects to the fallen at Pearl Harbor, family and friends paid their respects to him as he received military funeral honors at the North Dakota Veteran’s Cemetery. A week after Dad’s passing, mom found a poem that he had written for his funeral. The final words were “Celebrate life and be happy.” We will, Dad. We were taught well.
Noreen is a leadership coach and trainer who also served in the North Dakota National Guard. She shares her father’s love of reading and learning and celebrates life through travel, time with friends, and unapologetic laughter.