When We Still had Class

My dad went to prep school at age 13 where his father took him to the railway station, shook his hand, and said, “Give ’em hell, son.” There stood the little boy on the platform, by himself, waiting for the train. He entered college at age 16 and, at such a tender age, ran track for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was fast as the wind, but not fast enough to escape war.

At age 19, after Officer Training School, he went into the Navy to fight in World War II. He was a commander of men before he could legally walk into a bar and order a drink. He rode on huge aircraft carriers and told me stories of the waves that lifted the ships higher and higher into the air, the ship shuddering under the pressure, before—Down! Down! Down! They fell.

His service was in the Pacific. His older brother was in the worst of the fighting in the Pacific. My dad acted as if his service, compared to his brother, hardly counted.

So far from home, a young man daring himself to lead. Handsome in his white Navy suit. Serious. Talking of rats scurrying down the lines holding the ship to the dock. Of almost dying when they gave him sulphur drugs for a bad tooth such that, from that day forward, he never accepted any anesthesia for dental work.

Stories that held the truth of his experience. His service. Its impact. A veteran until the day he died, and they gave him a triangle flag for what he’d done over sixty years before.

He is my definition of class.

Bayard Taylor Van Hecke

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