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Thinking About Memorial Day and My Father

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The men and women of the armed services earn our respect. They act on what we as a democracy decide. Most of us just see glimpses of their heroism in history books, movies or the daily news. If we are very lucky, we know someone who has served or who is serving in the military. Lucky, because these men and women sometimes reveal the personal nature of their commitment. What they tell us can be electrifying, shocking, sad, awe-inspiring, but it is always humbling. It makes our debt to them very real.

I am especially lucky because I grew-up with a man who is a veteran. My father-Harry William Deal-fought in World War II and then thankfully, came home to raise our family. As children we were always aware of his role in the War but it is only now, decades later, that I am fully able to appreciate his contribution.

My father had kept a detailed diary during World War II but on his very last night of duty it went missing, so I was amazed and excited when he sent me a rough draft of his memoirs, written by hand at age 82. As I read, I was astonished by the detail, the humor and the underlying morality; he went because that is what his country needed him to do. No more, no less.

I have spent the last 12 months working with my dad to get his story told and his memoir Venus Rising was published this month. It's been a fascinating journey for me, taking the memories of my father and opening them up to the light of day. A friend, in response to this endeavor, wrote to me: "It's not easy to edit a book, or do anything for one's dad. Doing both at the same time is a real victory." Victories come in many forms. This one has been about the amazing journey taken with my dad.

It was not an easy task for my dad to write this book long-hand at the kitchen table, apparently driving my mom crazy in the process. For me it meant working late at night, snatching moments from an already frantic schedule to edit the text. This was a comical intersect of generational habits as I struggled to decipher dad's cryptic hand written and organize them on my computer. Although we had started the process with the idea of a limited print just for the family I was driven to make the book the best that it could be. In the end, the wry, understated Texan sense of humor that I grew up with and loved and my dad's amazingly clear ear for direct narrative captured the feeling of being told a bedtime story. What emerged was a simple and what I believe to be, wonderful story by one of America's remaining members of the "Greatest Generation."

My father starts the memoir telling about his youth growing up in deep South Dallas and it includes priceless stories such as the dozens of ways my grandmother could prepare turnips when that was all they had to eat, and of being 10-years-old and without the10¢ entrance fee for the State Fair, where he was handcuffed to the perimeter fence by a Texas Ranger for trying to sneak in. He grew up jack-rabbit hunting with his friends and was a member of the local South Dallas Twilights "gang." These were the rough-and-tumble days of Texas during the Great Depression when it was possible, no acceptable, to dip Jax beer from a bucket on the floorboard of a 1935 Chevy Rumble Seat Coupe and drink while driving across state.

Then came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The weight of that historic moment changed the lives of all Americans and my dad soon joined the U.S. Navy, though he had seen the ocean only once before his enlistment. At first he was assigned to the aircraft carrier Enterprise, but he requested a more dangerous assignment on an oil tanker for the simple reason that his boyhood friends were on board.

My Dad's journey taken through the adventures and atrocities of war, culminate in an experience he had off the shores of Japan in 1945. This experience was for me the crux of our collaboration because it revealed a side of him that I had always felt but not quite understood; his positive life view. Dad saw something that night while on deck watch, call it a ghost, a spirit, or an apparition, that left him with a vivid impression of life in balance with death. He had felt the presence of a guardian angel throughout the War and here in the last weeks of his service came a powerful message which he believed came from those who had "passed" before to those, like himself, who had been spared.

Getting this story published has been a true labor of love and joy, and I'm so proud of my father and humbled by his simple grace. I will always treasure his story as a part of a shared family heritage and a commitment to the values that I hold dear as an American.

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Venus Rising is available at Amazon.com


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