One of my earliest mental images (besides watching JFK's funeral on TV) is my mother crying as my father walked toward a line of A-4 Skyhawks on a cloudy morning in southern California. I didn't realize it at the time, of course, but he was on his way to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan for a 13-month deployment.
I also remember sitting around a small reel-to-reel tape deck with my mother a few years after that and listening to my father's voice as he related the tales of what was going on with the squadron in Da Nang, Vietnam. I imagined him flying through the clouds and helping the Marines on the ground by dropping bombs right where they were needed.
And then some months later I got the surprise of a lifetime: Without any warning from my mom, I walked into the small ranch house that we were renting in Kirkwood, Missouri (near where my grandparents on my mom's side lived) and found my dad waiting for me - a vision of strength, service, and honor in his green dress uniform. I was only seven at the time, but I'll never forget how I ran to him and the tears of joy we both shed.
Even as a long-haired, cynical teen I was overewhelmed with pride as I watched the skies over MCAS Cherry Point fill with A-6s returning from a NATO exercise, led by my dad, who was skipper of VMA(AW)-121 at the time.
His 30 years as a Marine had their share of challenges for the family, no doubt. Military life isn't easy. Long periods of separation are tough on a loving family. But those feelings were always eclipsed by a sense of pride in what he chose to do with his life. That pride is why I chose my first career. And I hope my sons feel the same way when they reflect on their experiences as military juniors.
So this Sunday Paper goes out to all of the military fathers far away from the sons and daughters who love them. When you face the trials of deployment know your dependents have a unique pride in what you're doing - pride that specific to your chosen walk of life. A joyous homecoming awaits, and that's what will be remembered over everything else.
Happy Fathers Day.