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My dad’s boyhood dream was to fly airplanes for a living. At age 19 in early 1941, my dad was a licensed civilian pilot, trained by a precocious 22-year-old instructor, Bob Bean at the Max Conrad Flying School. In August 1941, dad enlisted in a Navy aviation pilot program. After the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, dad graduated early from flight school and stayed a few months as an instructor before being a lead bomber pilot for the rest of WWII. Dad taught me that all squadron personnel were told repeatedly, “Do your best. Others are depending on you,” and that I should do my best for the same reason.
I once asked Dad if he was ever afraid in World War II. He immediately answered, “Never! Never! When there was a problem, I got serious and focused on how to solve the problem.” Dad’s advice helped me when at age 43, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, with damage to my right eye, my speech, my hands and my walk. I took off work the next day, went to a medical book store to buy books on MS, read them and mapped out a plan to fight the MS, with better nutrition, exercising six days a week before breakfast, and getting more and better sleep. And I was blessed to be married to a Catholic Prayer Warrior. I recovered from my first episode in three months but continued the health routine and never had a second episode.
Dad was a Naval Officer for 23 years, followed by 26 years with United Airlines as an instructor of pilots and later as a manager of pilot training. However, I best remember my dad as a Catholic Gentleman who led and served and taught me to do the same. The family dinner always started with dad, the Naval Officer, saying “Attention to Prayers” and letting the youngest child choose which family member would lead us in “saying grace,” i.e. the “Bless us, O Lord and these thy gifts” prayer. My wife and I still say grace at meals, even whenever at a restaurant.
Despite my growing up in 11 different apartments and houses by age 14, I attended Catholic schools from 1st grade through High School. My three brothers and I were altar servers at the Navy Base Chapel (as was my dad, as a cadet at the Navy Base 7am Mass on 12/7/1941).
Dad was caring. When I and two brothers (while driving home from high school) skidded the car on an icy bridge in 1969, dad found us still inside the damaged car up on the center rail. He had no anger, just a concerned “Are you OK?”
Dad was humble. After mom and dad were married in late 1949, but before they went on their honeymoon, dad flew a Navy twin-engine prop plane 500 miles in a blizzard to land at Aberdeen, SD’s closed airport to deliver anti-tetanus serum that saved a new mother’s life. The successful flight was in several local newspapers, but neither mom nor dad ever mentioned the rescue flight to their kids until I read about it in 2003 (by Googling Dad’s last name and hometown).
A year after mom died in 2013, my dad came with me first class on United Airlines to Dad’s hometown (Winona, Minnesota) for a four-day family reunion with his brother, two sisters and many other relatives. However, for my dad and me, the highlight of that trip was spending two hours with his dear friend 96-year old Bob Bean, the man who taught my dad how to fly.
In 2016 at age 95, Dad told me that the best thing he ever did was marry Mom in 1949, which makes sense when I recall him telling me nine years earlier that he stayed awake all night, unable to sleep, because he just kept thinking how wonderful his life had been. He truly was “Living the Dream.”
My dad passed on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2017 in a hospital after four of his children and several grandchildren were able to visit with him.
Like Dad, I was an early overachiever and a teacher. I was an Eagle Scout at age 14, had full scholarships for my accounting degree and my M.B.A. I earned my CPA license at age 21, was a CPA Review Course instructor at age 22, and at times developed and taught courses as a national Director at a major international accounting firm. For ten years, I taught Catholic teens in Confirmation classes (16 two-hour classes in a year), and even the kids who started as atheists were believing in God and the Catholic Church half-way into the course. I am a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus, staying busy since my retirement in 2013 with various volunteer work for the Knights, March for Life, and for Little Sisters of the Poor.