Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day: Remembering My Father

This was something I was planning on doing "sometime" out in the distance future.  But keep putting it off due to (insert whatever trivial crisis one experiences in normal life here). This post is more about the life of my father than just on his military history.

I have been reading some of the other blogs tributes to their fathers, bothers, uncles, 
from past wars and that got a light under my butt to do this small tribute to my father - Bert Shanks.  I would love to have gone into more detail than I will for this particular posting.  Simply because my father's military stuff are now put up in storage and for this post - I'm going by only memory.

My father was the baby of 12 children from my grandparents.  There was a 13th baby, a girl who died not to long after birth and my grandparents finally called it quits for the baby making department of their lives.  Dad, like the other Shanks children, would help out on the family farm doing whatever their respective ages would let them do.

After graduating from high school, he signed up with the U.S. Army Air Force and became a airplane mechanic.  If memory serves me correctly, this would be summer of 1942.  He had to hitchhike into the recruiters office in Lubbock from Muleshoe, Texas.  He was never sent overseas.  He was one of those who served on "The Home Front."  He was about to be shipped out to the Pacific when the atomic bomb was dropped.  At that time, he was a engine mechanic for B-29s.  Throughout the war, he was a private.  He never made it up to corporal or above.

After the war, he returned to West Texas. Attended Texas Tech Collage (at that time, now its Texas Tech University).  He met my mother thru a cousin who worked with her at the Morton's Potato chip factory that was on east 34th street in Lubbock, Texas.  They at first lived in a small trailer parked next to my mother's parents house in Idalou, Texas.  A small town just east of Lubbock.  At that time, my father was a teacher for FFA in Spur, Texas.  That was quite a daily commute for him during the week.

Eventually, they managed to get enough money together to get a 2 bedroom, 1 bath house in a new (then) housing development in south Lubbock. Within sight of the Channel 11 TV tower.  I came along as a early Christmas present for them in 1959.

My mother, Mildred; she passed away from cancer in August of 1995.  Then it was just the two of us.  At that time, I was going back to school for a semester, then work or try to find work. then go back to school again.  I wasted my "20s" doing that.

That house that my parents bought was falling apart and Dad and I decided to move to a new house.  With him being a veteran, he was able to get 5 acres from the Texas Veteran Land Board.  We had a double-wide mobile home set up on it.

And if anybody has read my previous posts about what eventually happened to that house, check the archives for Nov./Dec. 2008 for those details.  I will not go back over them here.

He passed away in July of 2007. For the previous 10 plus years before, I was basically his live-in home care service. In 2005, the doctors told me that he had to have 24 hour round the clock care from that point onwards.  I eventually was able to get him put into the Texas Veterans Nursing Home located in Big Spring, Texas, days after Christmas, 2005.  My father's roommate was a J.D. Mitchell.  Now he worked on B-17s also with the 100th Bomb Group.  In point of fact, he actually worked on the B-17 that has always fascinated me since my father bought me my first "grownup" book,  Flying Fortress by Edward Jablonski .  Inside that tome was this photograph of a B-17G nose section labeled "Milk Run Mable." Being in Radio Control model airplane hobby at the time, one of my dreams is to build a RC B-17 and do it up in the paint scheme of Milk Run Mable.  Sadly for me, Mr. Mitchell wasn't able to help me with my research on what the rest of that airplane looked like in the fall of 1944.  She was shot down in January, 1945.

The only photograph that I have on my laptop of my father's military service was of his photograph that was hung up along with his roommate's picture outside their door in the nursing home.  My father's photograph is the one on top in this picture.

From that time up until his death, I would make the once a month trip down to Big Spring to visit him.  Those were painful visits in retrospect.  It was a crap shoot to know if he will recognize me or not when I did show up down there.  Thanksgiving 2006 was the worse.  The entire meal, he kept asking me who I was.  The other vets sitting at the same table kept reminding him that I was his son.  The 2 hour drive back to Lubbock that night - I was on autopilot.  I didn't speed any more than the others who zipped past me at 80mph+ on the highway.  The guy who was driving my pickup truck back to Lubbock was remembering his Dad who remembered him.

How, as a young kid, I ran out into the street without looking both ways.  And my Dad grabbed me by the arm and spanked me hard.  Not out of anger - but fear of losing his only child.

He drove me away from sports for what was done to him by some stupid upperclassmen - they splashed some mild acid into his face.  It did affect his vision. This one incident might have actually saved my father's life.  Because when he signed up to join the Air Force, he wanted to be a gunner on a bomber.  Instead, he was a engine mechanic for such airplanes as the AT-6, BT-13, B-25, B-17, B-24, B-29.    

Of road trips when I was in high school going down to Houston or even all the way down to the tip of Texas.  Just guy time (and at home, my mother was having some much deserved "girl time" for herself).  

Memorial Day is more specific remembering of others' military service to our country.  But, this time around, the rest of my father's life has crept in as well.

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