By Ron Gawel
Today I pay homage to an authentic, true-to-life American action figure, one of the most giving, generous, likable men I know – my father.
A virtuous man whose life has been full of insight, integrity and inspiration, Dad is in his 100th year. I will always know in my heart and mind, “He ran the good race.”
He served in the world’s mightiest fighting force, the United States Marine Corps. The harsh discipline, undying fortitude and steadfast training he endured would become a lifelong part of him that which he never abandoned.
One of the remaining “few good men” who served in World War II, who, as the Marines put it, “could extraordinarily and unconditionally handle themselves in the harsh severity of fighting in an active war zone,” my dad, John Gawel, will turn 100 years old on Jan. 30.
After a month in Okinawa, my dad’s unit moved south, where much of his platoon was lost in battle. He was one of the lucky ones, one of seven out of 66 in the company to survive the bloody campaign.
His own journey of life began when Woodrow Wilson was president. It must have been an amazing thing for him to live through and be able to witness so many changing times and crucial events that have unfolded in our great American history chapters. Technology especially, and the huge changes it has brought about along with the vast increase in domestic crimes and the start of what became known as terrorism have often shocked and amazed him, as have the varied devastating catastrophic events occurring around the globe so frequently.
These in conjunction with the daily witnessing of changes in diverse and alternative lifestyles. As I sit mornings and view the “Today” show with him, I understand there is so much he just doesn’t get and quite comprehend anymore. He still states often how there was no president ever quite like Franklin Roosevelt, whom he truly did feel helped make this country great.
Dad still tries to make the effort to live each day to the fullest – not ever complaining about anything. Doing what he can with limitations, he does his best to somehow stay active mentally, and when he is able, physically – not so easy these days as he encounters troublesome stumbling blocks with his eyesight starting to fail him more and more, as is his hearing loss and in battling ongoing severe, crippling arthritis, all a part of getting old.
In recent years my heart has begun to palpitate faster as I come to the realization that Dad is yet another year older. I wonder if each birthday will be his last.
For I know “we are getting down to the wire,” the inevitable is coming, possibly sooner rather than later.
But still I cling to the now famous words expressed by the legendary Yogi Berra so long ago, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
I see Dad some days quickly fading, like an early morning fog disappearing into the sunlight he loves, witnessing his mind and memory forever slipping away and I don’t know from one day to the next what I will encounter with him.
There are good days still intermingled with not so good ones. I know now more than ever before that each day of life is a gift.