It’s become an online tradition to post photos or make mention on Memorial Day of our loved ones who served in the armed forces. Today is also the ninth anniversary of my father’s death, so it’s doubly important to make mention of him here today.
My Dad did his time in the armed forces—close to five years—during World War II. He served in what was then the Army Air Forces and is now the U. S. Air Force. He worked in ordnance, which (among other things) involved loading bombs onto aircraft.
My father seldom spoke of his time in uniform. Occasionally, he let a reference slip to one place or another he was during the war (Newfoundland, central England, Panama, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Peru, and New Zealand) but never that I heard of what he did.
He was honorably discharged some months after V-J Day in 1945, attended graduate school for a few years, and then set about teaching school, which was what he wanted to do.
At my dad’s funeral in 2002, my youngest brother Elliot told a story I’d like to repeat here, because it typifies my dad and his dedication to education.
As Elliot told it, my dad invited him in the 1990s to accompany him to coffee with “his guys,” a group of other retired men and women who met at a neighborhood coffee shop to chat about current events. Elliot was struck by how this group of older folks may have been drawn together by their free time, but how they used it to talk over the great issues of the day and keep their minds sharp. It seems there was also a lot of room for levity, which usually took the shape of teasing one member.
The day Elliot was there, it seems it was my Dad’s day to get hazed. Some of the other folks told him how he babysat other people’s kids in school, he he’d never really made any money because of his career choice, and how he’d never really accomplished anything.
My Dad pretty much chuckled along with the ribbing. As they all left the restaurant a few minutes later, a guy walked up to my Dad in the parking lot and asked, “Are you Mr. Skolnick?” My dad nodded. The guy said, “I want to shake your hand. I was in your class at Lynwood High School in 1954, and you really turned my life around and set me on the straight and narrow.”
With that, the guy—who definitely wasn’t a shill—shook my father’s hand and walked away. All the other retirees just watched silently.
It is incredible how many lives my father touched by standing at the front of a high school classroom every day for more than thirty years. I’m thinking a lot today about how he achieved such great stature through a series of tiny gestures.
I miss you, Dad.