04/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sail On Sailor: A Final Lesson Learned at My Father's Funeral

Somehow my dad taught me his last lesson even as he was being lowered into his final resting place.

With all the emotional and medical chaos of my father's final months, I thought about many things, but not much about the reality of his funeral ceremony. And so among the things that took my breath away when I entered my childhood temple where I had supposedly become a man years ago -- and where I would now offer my eulogy to my own hero -- was that American flag draped over my dad's beautiful maple casket.

At the time of World War II, my father Stanley Wild was a brilliant young scholarship kid at Cornell without a dad, working multiple jobs on campus in order to send money home to support his mother and sisters. He became a Naval officer when the war permanently delayed his previous plans to achieve the Jewish American Dream and become a doctor. So instead, my Dad went on to live that other American Dream of building his own business and supporting his own family by virtue of blood, sweat and tears.

As a kid, my father told my older brother, little sister and I many colorful stories about his days becoming a Naval officer, and then his years overseas serving this country during World War II, especially about the time he spent in China that forever broadened his view of the world beyond the George Washington Bridge. I really ought to have known how much his time in the Navy meant to him because even afflicted with a horrific disease that stole away so much of his memory, my father could until the very end could tell you exactly how many months, hours and days he spent in the Navy.

And so it seemed so profoundly fitting when, at the cemetery, we were met by a group of much younger men, uniformed representatives of today's Navy gathered to see him off with honors. Among these men was a dashing young fellow named Juan, who I knew when he was a boy whose mother worked in my dad's house. My father welcomed Juan to live in their house so that he could attend the fine schools in their affluent community. This turned out to be an act that forever changed Juan life for the better. Juan had grown up looking at the same exact photo that I had -- the one with my dad so handsome in his Naval uniform -- and had seen something I was too blind or simply not brave enough to see. And so the Navy became Juan's path to his own American Dream and a life of honorable service.

And so as they played taps and folded that American flag and stunned me by calling my father a "sailor" -- and most of all when Juan placed his Naval cap in my father's casket as a sign of his respect -- I was never more proud for the privilege of being my father's son. He was, in turned, not just my hero, but an American hero too.

Unlike my father, I never served my country, and I pray my sons never have to fight any war, but even on his funeral day, my father reminded me about the meaning of service and the need to respect and even salute it.

Thanks Dad,

Sail on sailor.