In many ways the end of the 801st story was the beginning of dad's. His wartime bride had dumped him with a classic "dear John" letter during his long trip across the Pacific, but his employer, Clark Equipment Company, welcomed him back with open arms and credited his service time toward his seniority.
He took a cut in pay to take a better position with a future for advancement. And he wooed and won a secretary at Clark's who became my mother, the great love of his life, Orpha Hawks.
Dad spent the rest of his life at Clark's, designing heavy machinery and receiving two U.S. patents for axle designs before retiring in the 1980's.
He also stayed with my mother the rest of her life, a devoted husband and outstanding father to two sons.
His army days in Idaho and Washington unlocked a passion for the American west that never left him. Every year we would load up the car with peanut butter, jelly, and Spam (another army legacy) and head out to wide open spaces and towering mountains. Not that we ever camped, mind you - the transit camp outside San Diego before he got on that train to come home was dad's last night under canvas, ever.
And he never stopped being an engineer. It took me some time to realize that not every family had a completely equipped machine shop in the garage, that automobiles could be taken to places to be repaired, or that appliances or furniture could could be replaced when broken. My training as a stick man began at age eight when dad surveyed a tile line from the laundry room out to a drainage field. He taught me the manual of arms, too, but that was just for fun.
He never kept in contact with his old army buddies. I asked him why, and he replied that they were great people, and it was an incredible time but it was also a miserable time, if you can understand that, and he had just wanted to get back to his life. And then life got busy, and suddenly it was years later. I didn't understand how that worked then, but I do now.
But at the end of the day when there were no appliances to repair or cars to fix or projects to work on, he would think back on his army days and my brother and I would hear, not for the first time, how he and a buddy had held off the townsfolk over a bag of burgers in some little town in Idaho, or how he flew kites while people fired at them with machine guns, or how Jimmy Stewart had offered him a ride. Thanks, dad. I wish I could hear them all again.