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50 years ago today

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I’m going by what my Mom said to me. She told me my father was a very good man. And my Mom was a very truthful person so I’m going with that.

July 9th 1966 is the day my father passed. 50 years ago today. I was 9 years old at the time. Finding him passing, passed was something I still have trouble with today. I have these vivid images of that day. It changed my world and has shaped it ever since then in both good and bad ways. For I never got a chance to know him and I wonder how things might have been different if he hadn’t passed so young.



I knew something wasn’t right when I tried to wake him. And when my Mom started yelling his name I could sense this was serious. Soon the ambulance was there, sudden commotion, but then everyone seemed to slow down. They didn’t have to say a thing to me. I could tell that the pace they came in with the gurney that he was gone.

They quickly whisked my sister and I over to a neighbor’s house before bringing him out but I watched from their front window. We went back home and Mom called us over to sit on her lap in the living room recliner. I knew what she had to say. I could see such deep pain in her eyes and her voice. I wish I could have removed it some way but that was an early lesson in life that there are some things you can’t change.

The military funeral at Arlington is also something that is a very vivid memory in a not so good way. So strong it stopped me from seeing him for decades out of sheer fear. Many years I would start to head there only to break down to the point of almost getting sick or having a total panic attack. Sometimes I’d begin to cry coming down the beltway and be so upset by the time I hit the GW Parkway I’d turn around. Even though I go there fairly often now I still get choked up pulling on Memorial Ave.

I still visit both Mom and Dad on Sundays when they don’t do burials because it upsets me so to see a military funeral or even hear taps being played in the distance. It triggers much pain that last for days after that. I did got to one friends fathers burial there and it took me several months to be able to go again to visit my parents. And that first time again was very difficult again. Hell I struggle watching news clips of military services and usually have to change the channel or walk away before the end of the segment.

I can look at the trees around their grave today and I can tell you exactly how big they we’re this day 50 years ago. I can remember the flag being folded and then handed to my Mom.

There was a lot of turmoil and pain in the early years before he passed. Some good times, but he suffered a lot near the end of his life which is the only time I had with him. He was very depressed about his medical discharge from the service. It’s what he had known and loved all his life. Plus a number of complication from Tuberculous.

Memories at that point were all we had left. And we didn’t talk much about that part of our life for a very long time. It was just too painful for all of us.

Except for the kitten he had gotten us many years before. That was our link to him. And when she got so sick later in life (she lived till 20 years old) the vet called me to come home from work because my Mom couldn’t make the decision to have her put down, I could certainly understand why because I think she saw Jim in that cat. I saw her suffering and made the decision but it was just as difficult for me.

That kitten came home on his lap a few years before he died. I remember walking up to the edge of the neighborhood to greet him. He stopped and picked me up and this kitten was on his lap as he was driving. He was so gentle with her. He seemed to smile quite a bit that day.

He enlisted in the Navy in his teens. I know he was on a destroyer in WWII and also served in Korea. But I believe he was most proud of his Arctic and Antarctic explorations. He served on Operations Deep Freeze 1 and 2, also making multiple trips to each pole before those operations. I recently found a letter from a Captain detailing some of his fine work on those trips.

I’m still searching through some family things and finding some gems here and there. Little bits of his life. Once I gather up some of the photography he did at both poles I’ll share that and some special things about his life.

My Dad taught me something by his passing. Always be there for your children and wife. For I know the pain left by not being there.

I still miss you Dad.

Author: Mike Hartley

With a lifetime and a half in the Newspaper industry I'm preparing for my retirement career as an Artist, Writer, Photographer and Video content provider. I'm a proud father of two wonderful children and I'm still married to the first girl I fell in love with and probably only one that would have me.

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  1. Pingback: A day remembered | THREW Mikes EyEz

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