Dressed to the nines in crisply ironed Marine Blues, my 21 year-old daddy dons the same butter wouldn't melt grin I’d meet 12 years later. Born near the dawn of the Great Depression in the American Deep South, he quickly learned he had to work hard and pinch a penny till it squealed if he was going to escape poverty. Perhaps his deep respect for the Marines, coupled with the need to provide a comfortable, secure life for his young family, OR Fletcher, Jr resorted to extraordinary measures to gain entry to the US Marine Corps.
Blind in his left eye due to a childhood accident, Daddy memorised the eye chart in order to pass this part of the physical. He went on to achieve an excellent score on his marksmanship test, so must have thought for a time that his visual deficit would remain a secret. Riddled with flaws like anyone else, my father made mistakes and even broke my heart a few times. Despite the imperfections, I rarely questioned my father’s love nor doubted he would move Heaven and Earth to provide for his family.
One day during target practice, another soldier's rifle butted my dad on the left side of his head. The military doctor sadly informed him that he was now permanently blind in his left eye, and would be issued an honorary medical discharge. Each time I recall this era in my father’s life, I can’t help but beam with the same cheeky grin my daddy displays in the photo. I'm sure he was devastated to be discharged from the Marines, but at the same time I'm sure he was busting a gut to tell the distraught doctor that he'd actually been blind in that eye since he was poked in the eye with a window screen at the age of five. After his military escapade, my dad went on to be an insurance salesman, cross country truck driver, owner and operator of a service station (garage which also sold petrol) and technician in a sewage filter plant.
Unfortunately this 6'2" Southern gentleman with a deep drawl as slow and thick as molasses on a cold winter morning, would die in his sleep of a heart attack at the age of 52. I was 20 at the time and just a few months earlier had helped Daddy prepare for his chemistry exam at the filter plant. Only last year, I found out he scored 100% on the test. As I was just getting to know my father on an adult level, I feel a bit cheated that we lost him so soon. I'd begun to recognise my father's keen intelligence, and that he could have gone on to achieve an advanced degree and high paying job if he'd had the same opportunities I did.
I’m now 54, so have already lived 2 years longer than my dad. I wonder sometimes if he'd known he was going to die at such a young age, would he have taken a bit more time off. Most of his life, he worked 6 days a week, often for 12 hours a day.
To anyone else, this is a photo of an ordinary US Marine, but to me, Daddy is one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met. I'm filled with pride and sadness when I look at the photo of this young man with his whole life ahead of him. I still miss him every single day. Happy Father's Day to my dad. I'm so fortunate to be your daughter.
Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:23
My Father: Proud of his Marine BluesWritten by Susan England
Published in May-July-2017