This Veterans Day
This Veterans Day
This Veterans Day will be my first real Veterans Day without my Pop. Last Veterans Day I was laying him to rest.
He was a very complicated man, my Pop. People called him Hoss, though that wasn’t his given name. He was an imposing man at 6’2” with a 52” chest, an uncommonly low drawl, and an affinity for horses. He was, in no uncertain terms, The Hoss- a fact to which my high school boyfriend can attest.
And me, I was always and still am, a Daddy’s Girl. A year ago today I sat among friends and family as they offered anecdotes and escapades, sharing smiles and tears about shared tequila shots and poignant memories. I held my Aunt Debbie’s hand as the guns saluted him in one final send-off for a man who hated hearing them.
He was born in South Carolina in 1946, though his driver’s license said 1946. No one really knew how old he was, but I’ll continue to stick with what he always told me, and that’s ’46. Adopted as a baby by my grandparents-a school teacher and daughter of a senator, and a WWII vet overseer of a prison chain gang. Neither of them accepted his being drafted for service in Vietnam.
He continued his career in the Army after serving 3+ tours in Vietnam, resulting in my own birth at Darnall Medical Center on Ft. Hood and his lifelong friendship with my godfather, who would go on to become a rodeo clown, even though he’s African-American.
I was a young child when Pop left the Army. Sadly, it never left him. My childhood memories are studded with instances of him curled up in the bathroom corner, shivering and sweating from bouts with malaria from his time in Southeast Asia. My brother and I knew not to wake him suddenly because of his time in Southeast Asia. I was born without fingers on my right hand as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange when he was in Southeast Asia.
That was an unbreakable bond between my father and me: his unwavering guilt over my personal struggles as a child due to his time in Southeast Asia. A doctor once told my parents when I was a baby that he wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to move my hand, be able to grab anything, or even to learn to speak. I did, I do, and I can most assuredly articulate until others’ ears beg for mercy.
I grew up watching him befriend every horse at the ranch on which we lived. He would take absolutely no quarter from people who abused those animals or any other, or take an excuse from absolutely anyone- myself included. He brought me baby bunnies that he would rescue when he was mowing the pastures, and brought me an orphan foal when its mother died on my 9th birthday.
People were not as fortunate as those creatures. If he didn’t like or, more importantly, respect you, there would be no doubt about it. His circle was small and varied, but it was concrete. From his best friend Steve, an Osage-Irish horseshoer who starts drinking cold beers as soon as his eyes open every morning to the boot maker and biker who took care of his horses and donkey while he was away, his tribe never left his side after he was admitted to the hospital September 7, 2021 due to an infection in his replaced knee and hip, lifelong maladies resulting from, again, his time in Vietnam when 3 bullets hit their target.
All of these people loved my Pop, and more importantly, they respected him. Milo the donkey, the never-ending stream of horses, dogs, and cats loved him. None loved him as undyingly or as fiercely as I did and still do. I miss him with all of me and still things to ask him on the daily. He taught us strength and softness, loyalty and honesty, and a lot of bullshit others just don’t appreciate (like the proper way to do tequila shots).
As this Veterans’ Day winds down, I continue to reflect on him, his service, how it shaped not only his life, but ours as well, and how different life is without him. I miss him more than I can express, but I’m grateful for the life he led and the lessons he taught us.
I love and miss you, Pop. Thank you for your service.
The featured photo is the personal property of the author, with all rights reserved.