Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

May 27, 2004

An Early Memorial Day Salute

This will be my last post for several days, for various and sundry reasons. Therefore, since Memorial Day is coming up here in America, I thought I'd post a brief note regarding a couple of soldiers I have known.

One of them was Robert "Bud" Flynn, who lived most of his adult life in Rochester, New York. He was my father-in-law. I only met him once, because he died soon after Laurie and I began dating. He was known by all as someone who was quietly but thoroughly reliable, the kind of man that one would call "respected," but with a memorable streak of Irish wit. He was also a veteran of the 2nd World War.

In August of 1944, attached to the 112th infantry, 28th division, he and his peers took a little jaunt across the whole of France, chasing the German army all the way. There was the deadly Bocage fighting, the Falaise pocket, the march into Paris (his was the first American unit to do so), and finally the bloody contest in the Hurtgen Forest and then the Battle of the Bulge. I will say only this: he fought for his country in some of the most gruesome and harrowing places of carnage in modern warfare. Then he came home, got a job, raised a family. In all the years he spoke very little of those days in '44. But there was the time, soon after his return, when his sister-in-law (whom he was visiting) saw him standing over the bathroom sink, mixing his shaving cream in a bowl (the old-fashioned way) and crying his eyes out. We will never fully-appreciate the price that men like him payed for the sake of others. All I do know is that he and his wife went on to raise three children, all of whom are outstanding people with a deep and abiding sense of honor. That's no small achievement either. I salute Bud Flynn on this Memorial Day.

The other man I want to mention is my own father, Robert Cornelius Spencer. He joined the Navy right out of high school, in 1950. He served in Korea, and later in Vietnam, as well as various as "police actions" that never made the papers. By the way, concerning the now rather quaint phrase "police action," he once told me with a wry grin, "Funny thing, they sure felt like wars to me!"

In the early days he worked in underwater demolition. Later, the Navy put him through engineering school (Purdue). He worked with Naval Intelligence in Vietnam, and after that served at Los Alamos and at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

I can tell you many stories about the man. He was in no way an ideal, by no means a model family man. But he was a brave man, and a man who late in life repented of many things and attempted in his last years to make them right. For that reason alone he is a hero to me. He retired at the rank of Commander after 32 years, and bought an old sailboat. He refabbed the boat and planned to sail it to China (for reasons that escape me now). But he never got the chance. Sailing in the Florida Keys with his fiance, the boat crossed over a submerged rock jetty, ripping a hole in its hull. His fiance was thrown overboard. My father died attempting to save her life.

On this Memorial Day, I salute him.


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