Veteran’s Day with my Father

by John Ince, President Charlottesville Country Properties, LTD.

11-11-11 Veteran’s Day

November 11 has always had a double meaning to me. First, it’s my mother’s birthday which we almost always had off from school and second, it’s Veteran’s Day. Growing up in a Navy family, surrounded by active military, it seemed more like a day when “we” were being recognized than a day to pay tribute our veterans. As the years have gone by and my lifestyle developed completely unmilitaristically, I’ve come to appreciate November 11th as a day to recognize “them”, with my father, a retired Rear Admiral and Class of ’49 Annapolis alumni as the iconic veteran, not just to me but to all who know and respect him.

My mom died in January of ’09 and is buried at the Naval Academy cemetery in Annapolis. My father, now 85 and living in Madison asked if I might be free to drive up to Annapolis with him today and visit my mom’s grave with him on her birthday. I first thought that I must be too busy. I can’t take a whole day off. Then I thought there is nothing Mom would rather have on her birthday than my Dad and I spending the day together. Thanks Mom.

We began the day at St Clair, my father’s home in Madison County at 8:00 sharp, both of us knowing in the back of our minds that we had not spent a whole day together, just the two of us, ever. It was a crystal clear, flag snapping day as we headed north to my dad’s alma mater. The questions in my mind about what we would talk about vaporized as we talked about Mom, my sisters, his old dog Meg, Madison County politics. Time passed quickly and pleasantly and well before 11 we were entering the gate at the Naval Academy, the sentry saluting with extra flourish when he saw the two stars on my dad’s front bumper. The cemetery overlooks the water and my mom’s marker has a spectacular view across the river to the parade grounds below. We wished her happy birthday and left a small bouquet of flowers. My father’s name is on the marker beside hers to be filled out in full when he joins her someday. All of the grave markers had fresh American flags for Veteran’s Day and they are a fascinating lot. Reading the stones is mesmerizing with many 19th century sailors and officers who went down with their ships or served gallantly in this famous engagement or that. It now starts dawning on me that this is not an ordinary Veteran’s Day for me as my father starts telling anecdotes as we pass markers of officers he had known.

The Naval Academy is one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. The chapel will take your breath away and the uniformed Midshipmen on their way to class make you marvel at their vigor and readiness to serve. We decided to go to the Naval Academy museum before lunch, a marvelous museum worth hours and hours chronicling the history of the US Navy with dioramas, artifacts, ship models, uniforms, swords and documents. As we reach the WWII section my dad starts talking as we move from display to display. WWII ended just days after he was sworn into the Navy but he lived the history we only studied in school. “That’s Nimitz” he told me pointing at a photo of the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri. “Have I told you about meeting him?” Then on to Korea where he pointed out a model of the single engine bomber he flew off a carrier. “She was a tough old bird” Finally on the way out we stopped at a display of all the class rings. The class of ’49 was the last class to ever have any human form depicted on it. It had a bare breasted mermaid on each side.” I did that” he told me. “I was the head of the ring committee and I got the bare breasted girls on our ring. It never happened again!” He also was Director of the Naval Security Group which intercepted and translated coded Russian transmissions during the cold war, living a clandestine life under the highest security clearances. We’ve only just begun to hear stories about his adventures thirty years after his retirement.

At lunch Dad told me about receiving the letter from his Indiana Congressman informing him that he was his first appointment to the Naval Academy. My dad was in the V-12 program at UVA at the time and was thrilled with his appointment. He told me about Plebe year, how he was paid twelve dollars a month but only had liberty on Saturday afternoon. My dad went to flight school after he graduated, was a flight instructor for a while, flew in Korea then got into intelligence and cruised the Pacific with the 7th Fleet while we lived in Japan. He served as aide to Admiral Moorer who later became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs then rejoined the Naval Security Group to become its Director before retiring in 1980. He had a rewarding 30 year career in the Navy then dedicated the next 30 to living happily ever after with my mom in Madison County.

How fortunate I was to spend a day like this with my father. I have memories of him in uniform as a Lieutenant all the way to Admiral and now at 85 he really is a veteran and with stories and memories that are part of our nation’s history. I’m lucky to know a man like this who served his country with pride an honor and set a fine example for those who served under him and for those he served. Thanks Dad. Thanks Mom.

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