I have a soft place in my heart for one special veteran of the US Armed Forces, an old soldier from World War II, one Sergeant George Thomas King. You won't find him in a history book or listed for heroic deeds above and beyond the call of duty. Yet he was a soldier and patriot through and through, one of the vast number who were proud to do their part for country and family. What makes him special? If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be here. George Thomas King was my father.
Born in Kentucky in 1921, George Thomas King was not that different from many farm boys of the times. He did, however, lie about his age and join the cavalry while still a teenager. Back then the cavalry still rode horses. So it was that he was already quite experienced with the Kentucky National Guard--pulling duty at coal miners' strikes and natural disasters like floods-when the Kentucky Guard was nationalized for service during World War II. He traded in his horse for a ship. He was army all the way, but his job was mainly as a gunnery sergeant on transport ships that took men and supplies between Australia and the islands, sometimes arriving just hours after the Allies took control from the Japanese. It wasn't really as safe as it might sound, since he wasn't fighting on the front lines, because the Japanese soldiers and ships were still in the area many times. Friends and mates were sometimes shot around him, but I am thankful that he survived to come home and meet my mother after the War was over.
Every year when it was possible, my father would make a trip down to Monticello, Kentucky for the annual reunion of his old army buddies. Just before and after the reunion was about the only time he would reminisce, but it was so obvious how much that time and those buddies meant to him. I think it must have been the highlight of his life, really; it certainly had a profound effect on him. During the last part of his life, Alzheimer's began an attack that made it dangerous for him to try driving that familiar road, so my brother went with him one year and I took him the next. I had never been with him at the meetings before, and I discovered he wasn't the only one with a son or daughter there. It was a good experience for me to see these other men interacting with him. They all cared so much about him and had a great deal of respect for him. And it was amazing how much he remembered, in detail, of those long-ago days when he couldn't remember the road to take anymore.
That reunion was in September, a few weeks before he suffered a heart attack. The day he died was Veterans' Day--a most appropriate way to go for this proud old soldier. So Veterans' Day always makes me think about my dad most of all, and I remember the special bond between him and his comrades-in-arms. I still miss him tremendously, but the day doesn't bring sad memories so much as a feeling of pride and love.
Now to our veterans still here from many years of service, thank you for your gift to us and your country. God bless you all.