The few surviving members of the Greatest Generation from Wyoming who fought in World War II are now nearing 100 years old or even older.
A few weeks ago would have marked my dad’s 100th birthday. He died 19 years ago and was proud of his service in World War II. He has been on my mind a lot lately.
He was an Irish Catholic businessman in a little town in Northeast Iowa most of his life.
But he always said he spent 13 of the most fun years of his life here in Wyoming. He moved my mom and three youngest siblings to Lander in 1978.
My three youngest brothers, Jerry, Ron and Don graduated from Lander Valley High School and also the University of Wyoming. Ron works in Cheyenne as executive director of the Wyoming Education Association. Although she did not go to high school here, my sister Susan Kinneman is a teacher in Fort Washakie and lives in Riverton.
Our mother will celebrate her 95th birthday in Broomfield, CO.
But back to my dad.
He was a member of the Greatest Generation that served during World War II. He served in the 363rd Engineers Co, which was charged with building camps and bases. “Seems like we always built the Officers’ Clubs first,” he used to joke.
He spent most of his time in Tehran, Iran, and I can remember marveling at a dagger and a sword he brought home along with various dishes, plates, plaques, and rugs. Many of them had “Persian Gulf Command” inscribed on them.
As a young Iowa kid he got to see a lot of the world. He sailed across the Pacific on a voyage that lasted 57 days. He visited Egypt twice and among the family heirlooms are photos of him in front of the pyramids.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the war for him, after four years, was getting out. The guys in his unit were afraid they would fight with Japan. But each day, a certain number of guys would be given their discharge slips and would head home.
Finally, he got his.
He boarded a plane and flew with stops at Cairo, Tripoli, and Casablanca before boarding a C-54 for a flight back to the states. Once in Miami, he got on trains that took him back to his home in Wadena, Iowa. He arrived there on July 6, 1945. (I might point out that I was born eight and half months later – the first real baby boomer!)
Dad described his service in WW II as, “A million dollar experience that I wouldn’t give 10 cents to experience again.”
I remember dad as a very honest person. He always emphasized that we must never lie. When I was growing up at home, he emphasized to me that I had never lied to him.
On one occasion when I was about l2, one of my brothers — had pulled some stunt. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember the aftermath like it was yesterday.
Dad called me aside and firmly told me, “Bill, I know you’d never lie to me. Now, look me in the eye and tell me what you boys have been up to.”
I don’t remember what I told him, but I do remember I looked him in the eye — and I lied!
So what kind of man was dad? I would say he measured up pretty well if you note the unconditional love given him by his wife Betty for nearly 60 years.
Dad was an Irishman. He had freckles and always a twinkle in his eye and a great sense of humor.
In his old age, he had become the perfect grandfather figure. He could tell you exactly which of the kids or grandkids were travelling and he would monitor the weather and say prayers to get them safely where they were going.
One of my forever visions of him is seeing him asleep in his favorite chair with a little baby also asleep on his chest.
My dad was a man of high principle, lofty ambitions, and passionate political beliefs. He stressed education to his children and pushed them to achieve their highest potential. It is interesting that at the time of his death in 2000, his 11 kids had accumulated 44 years of college education – an average of four years per child.
Finally in 1978 with the Iowa economy crumbling, dad left that pretty Iowa valley and moved west to Wyoming. We were sure glad.