In August Al and I attended the funeral of his high school principal. Remember, we celebrated Al’s fiftieth high school reunion last year in 2011? His principal was 95 years old! We didn’t realize he was still alive! He had a major influence on Al’s life and was responsible for Al’s joining the navy. Al lived with his mother in Illinois. She was a single mom, divorced, and supported herself and her two sons by working as a registered nurse. She hurt her back, spent many weeks in traction, and was told by doctors that if she slipped on the ice and fell again, she would be in a wheel chair for the rest of her life. So in 1959 she sold all her belongings and moved to warmer weather in Florida. She was not able to work as a nurse so Al found a part time job in a grocery store to support them while she was healing. His older brother was in the navy.
He was going to school full time and working overtime, so he started to fall asleep in class. Al was passing but was far from making honor roll grades. When the guidance counselor learned about his home situation, she told him he should quit school, and work to support his mother. Since his grades were so bad and “he didn’t have a daddy”, he was not “college material”. Al wanted to join the navy like his brother, and he had to have a high school diploma to do so. So he went up the chain of command to his principal, straight to the top. (He always says that snowballs roll faster downhill). The principal listened to his plight. He took him out of the college prep courses and put him in a vocational work-study program so he could work and go to school. He graduated and joined the navy.
He was stationed at Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) during the Cuban missile crisis, drove a bulldozer in Viet Nam, and after four and a half years decided he had had enough of being put in harm’s way. He was honorably discharged with a good conduct medal! Can you believe that? I asked his shipmates at the McCaffery reunion about his conduct and they said the Commanding Officer was always pointing Al out as the example! I guess he learned how to pretend to behave when he was a staff driver at Gitmo. There he drove for visiting admirals and senators.
Anyway, Al got a call from his principal when he got out, asking to meet him at the navy reserve unit here in Jacksonville. When Al arrived, much to his surprise, his principal was wearing a navy uniform! He had been in the reserves all these years! He told Al that they were having trouble passing an ORI inspection in the electronic’s unit and would he help them out, as that was his area in the navy. Well, Al could not refuse after all the principal had done for him! So he worked with them so they passed inspection. His principal asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” Al replied that he had made ET 4 and was eligible for ET 5 but the navy would not give it to him because he was not staying on active duty long enough. So the principal made sure he got ET 5 before his being separated from the reserve unit. At the funeral viewing, Al told this story to the man’s daughter, who then insisted he tell it to her mother. When he finished, I realized that the whole room was silent; everyone was listening to Al.
By the way, his mother’s health improved and she was able to go back to work. As for Al’s grades, he found out that he was dyslexic when he started college. Once he learned to compensate for it, he graduated with honors from the University of North Florida. And the best part of being in the navy was the GI bill that allowed him to go to college, because that is where we met – at the University of Florida. Thank you, Jesus, for my wonderful husband!
Pictures show Al with two of his shipmates, and our Veterans Memorial wall here in Jacksonville. Note that it has an eternal flame. It has the names of military persons from Jacksonville who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.