Honoring fathers on their special day

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 14, 2014

By Melinda Bowman

This past week we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy and the ultimate sacrifice members of our greatest generation paid on behalf of the world. Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day, and I can’t help but remembering my own father who fought in that war and, possibly, because of that war came home to lead a purposeful life to build a lasting legacy for his future family.

Just before his 18th birthday,  John Wiley “Dub” Smith, enlisted in the U.S. Navy to serve in the Pacific theatre aboard LSM-43, one of the ships which participated in the D-Day invasion of the island of Iwo Jima.  He never spoke of his service in World War II until the twilight years of his life.  I will forever treasure those moments of him relaying stories of his service in the Navy…me asking questions and he remembering details of events and relationships forged a world away from his home on the farm in Poplarville, Mississippi.  He recalled dropping marine tanks on the island and seeing, from off-shore, the raising of the American flag on the fifth day of fighting.  He both laughed and cried remembering the captain of his ship who became like a father to him.  At the end of the war, it was that man who posed the question to his crew whether or not they would like to chance making it back to San Diego with a large crack in the vessel below the waterline.  The ship had just sustained a near-fatal blow riding out a typhoon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The small landing ship was like a toy being tossed in the tempest with pumps dispelling water as fast as it came in. Once the storm was over, they went to Tokyo where the Skipper gave them two choices—to dry-dock for repairs for several months or sail home unescorted in Japanese submarine-infested waters with a damaged ship that was entirely dependent upon aging pumps to continually pump out water to stay afloat.

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I can still picture dad laughing as he relived the day when the Skipper asked for a show of hands to stay in Tokyo. Not one sailor raised his hand.  On the voyage home, it took 21 days of constantly pumping out water to reach the mainland of California…but every sailor knew the risk, and each had rather have taken his chances at the great possibility of being lost at sea just for the chance to go home.

Dad came home and vowed to never leave the mainland U.S.A. again.  He graduated from Mississippi State University with a B.S. in Agriculture.  He coached basketball and taught at Savannah High School, married Ernestine Smith of Derby and went on to be the County Agent for Hancock County until he retired and moved back to the farm where his life began in 1926.

A father’s love and approval over his family make a world of difference in a child’s life.  Sometimes children grow up searching for that approval and encouragement when they never received it at home. That’s why dad choked up when he spoke of the career Navy man from Virginia who was like a father to him, and even at age 80 he wept remembering the impact one man left on a young man from Mississippi so many years before.

It still meant the world to him.  And, it made me realize that Father’s Day is not just a time to honor biological fathers.  It can also be a time to honor those men who have left a lasting mark on our lives.  And for those who regret they were never fathers, it’s not too late to purposefully leave a legacy of love and blessing upon another life.  We live in a society where many of our problems are due to a breakdown of the family…and specifically by absent fathers.  Thankfully, though, it’s never too late to change courses to begin efforts to repair and rebuild lives. And, I believe there are men out there who can choose to invest in a young person’s life.