November 11, 2011
The old video tape from the aircraft carrier is formed of various bits of things. First jet propaganda: Hornets catapulted off the flight deck and Hornets catching the wire. Thundering engines; uniformed men waving and signaling to one another. Men in flight suits and flight boots looking important.
Another part of the video wobbles along below deck, down a long metal hallway, bobbing to step over each door frame: Daddy, giving his family a tour of his temporary home.
Later on the tape is footage taken flying a small plane over the Philippines. Daddy wasn’t on that flight; his two roommates, Willy and Wacko, were. The camera pans across the green Philippine hills, catching part of the plane wing sometimes, while Willy and Wacko dialog back and forth about the scenery. Then the camera focuses in on a huge white cross on one of the hills; one of the guys comments, “Nickel will like this.”
Nickel. Even today, Daddy hears “Nickel” when he’s completely oblivious to his own name. I’ve been told that his shipboard roommates — the two men who shared an incredibly tiny space with him for months on end — were both more or less heathen. The fact that they filmed the cross seems strange; the fact that seeing that cross brought my father to their minds: wow.
Nickel was the guy who took scripture memory cards in his flight suit pocket to review while sitting on stand-by — sometimes for hours — in his jet. Nickel fought to keep a pornographic calendar out of the ready room. Nickel, an officer and jet pilot, submitted to scrubbing filthy ship decks rather than participating in the traditional — but none-the-less pagan — equator crossing ceremonies. Nickel’s piece of the cabin wall was covered with photos of his wife and baby girl.
I was only eight months old when he came home from that cruise — we have a newspaper clipping: him in his flight suit holding me with a bow around my sparse hair — and taught me to eat Hershey’s kisses. As I grew older I saw him, the man who chose his family’s welfare over that of his promising Naval career, the Executive Officer who went about his base picking up trash.
And so it’s Veteran’s Day, and my Daddy is a veteran. I could write of his skills as pilot and officer, and I would not need to exaggerate them; I love my military heritage. But this other heritage: that cross on the Philippine hills didn’t make those men think of Daddy because he was a fanatical collector of cross memorabilia — he wasn’t and isn’t — they thought of him because he was a sold-out follower of the crucified One, humbling himself and taking the form of a servant for the sake of the Name that is above every name. This heritage: wow.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.