This site is dedicated to sales and marketing professionals. Mentors are an important. Two of the most influential people in my life were my mother and father-in-law.
“They Walked Into Hell for a Heavenly Cause for You – A Memorial Day Tribute”
“Dad never talks about his career” my future wife Sally insisted on the way to my introduction to her parents “and neither does mom.” Sally and I had met months earlier when she was still living in Houston. I had just helped her move back to her parent’s home in Fairfax, VA where she spent most of her life as an “Army brat” daughter of Colonel James Rike and formerCaptain Delores Dilger. Sally was surprised that dad and I hit it off right away.
They lived in an upper middle class suburban home about 20 minutes from the Pentagon. Their decorating did not indicate a career that spanned WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. It’s a nice size home, but a bit on the small side for nine children. Three of the kids were married, some were out of the nest working, and a couple of the boys were finishing college.
Dad was a fun loving man who whistled while he worked and was heavily involved in all of the kid’s activities. Dad was always the Colonel and Mom was always the Captain, and everyone paid them an appropriate fearful respect, including me. I’m not sure what mom and dad saw in me that made our relationship so special, but we became very close.
No one has influenced me more than these two hardworking, humble, virtuous people have. I could never fill their shoes. They treated me like one of their own children. When I stepped out of line they let me know it, and I honored them both, as anyone should. Mom often reminded me, “You’re one us.”
My first time at their home, I sat at the kitchen table with dad. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was comfortable with Dad’s questions. I sold machine tools, equipment used by many industries including aircraft manufacturing. When dad asked about my career, I told him about my experiences with Sikorsky helicopters among other aircraft builders. Sally and mom’s mouth nearly hit the floor when dad began talking about helicopters and some of the planes he flew for the Army. No one had ever gotten dad to speak about “that.” Here we were meeting for the first time and he was chatting away.
Dad had flew everything from suicide WWII gliders to jets and helicopters. Winged pilots flying helicopters is a rarity; one his many accolades. The door had opened to learning that he had survived more aerial crashes than most peoples’ car wrecks.
Less than one year after meeting mom and dad, Sally and I married. We did not have bridesmaids and groomsmen, just a small wedding party. My sister was maid of honor and my father was best man. Our four parents and my sister stood with us in a sunny, brick walled courtyard at the Roslyn Country Club on Long Island. My father and I wore black shawl collared tuxedos. Dad wore something else.
Dad called nervously as the wedding was coming upon us and we had not told him what to wear. I expected him to wear his dress blues. “You’ll never get dad in his dress blues” Sally insisted. But I wasn’t giving in.
“What should I wear?” Dad politely demanded.
“Wear your dress blues dad,” I said with a faux West Point gentlemanly conviction.
“What are you and your father wearing?” he said as politely and unmoved as the brilliant poker player he was.
“It doesn’t matter what we’re wearing dad. My wedding gift is seeing you walk Sally down the aisle in your dress blues. It’s an honor we all deserve” and then I stopped.
He never acquiesced but he wore them proudly and danced with my mother to the “Caissons Go Rolling Along.”
Over the years, I learned that dad had flown countless suicide missions in poorly built gliders during WWII including the D-Day invasion. On one flight behind the French lines in low flight, an 88mm shell put a hole “the size of a patio door” in one of his wings. “My green copilot and I jumped out into a bomb hole half filled with water” he laughed as he told me how his new flying partner shook like leaf.
“I have a bottle of scotch in my duffle bag,” the young flyer announce to dad.
“Well go get it” dad laughed as he finished telling me about how they were rescued from a French tavern after they were wined and dined by the locals for a few days.
“Were you ever afraid?” I once asked him.
Without any hesitation he said, “No. I always had my faith in God. When a flyer became afraid, he didn’t come back.”
Dad survived more than being shot down four or five times that included a dunk in a poisoned part of the Yellow River that made him ill. He had a stroke that led to his retirement, bypass surgery, meningitis from a fall that caused spinal fluid to leak, and three aneurisms repaired by surgery. It was a form of Lou Gehrig’s disease that finally ended his life. This invincible man spent his last years in a wheelchair as brave as he sat in the cockpits over enemy fire. It was then that we learned the true mettle of mom.
Mom and dad’s social life was their family. Forty or more family members including enough grandchildren for two baseball teams filled the house on holidays and other events. We never saw their friends except when Mom’s church buddies came by to make rosaries or pick up spiritual books from Mom’s inventory. So we were floored when the funeral home was overfilled for dad’s wake. After everyone but the family had left, dad’s 5’2” wife of 47 years quietly stood by dad’s open coffin. One by one, we all gathered at her side.
In just a few minutes, the funeral hall filled with chatter at airport decibel levels was peacefully silenced like the green pastures and quiet waters King David wrote about it. “We love you dad and we’ll miss you” mom announced with finality. It was a moment unmatched by any scene in any movie, play, or book. “Okay, we can go now” mom commanded, and they closed the coffin.
A few years later, Sally asked mom about her time in WWII. Over the years, mom had spoken nothing more than how she and dad met and the moments they had enjoying each other in war torn Europe. “Oh, it was nothing darling” mom giggled. Sally persisted until mom brought her scrapbook to the kitchen table.
Captain Delores Dilger was a flight nurse who flew over 170 missions during WWII. Her job was to fly into battle zones and care for the wounded on the way to the hospital. There was no discrimination by the enemy. Their medical flights were shot at just like fighters and bombers.
Mom saw the horrors of Hitler’s, Mussolini’s, and Hirohito’s torturous abuse of prisoners. Captain Dilger faced peril like every soldier. Mom went down in one flight and walked away with a knee injury. On another occasion, mom was grounded because she had a sinus infection. She insisted on flying but the Captain refused and her good friend Dolly went instead. That flight never returned
After the war when they settled in Virginia, mom collected and shipped clothing and household goods all over the world to missions including Native American reservations. Mom packed 100lb. boxes, the UPS limit. She would never let the UPS driver lift them. “They’re too heavy and I don’t want you to hurt yourself,” she ordered the drivers well into her 80s.
One day, mom received a letter from a hospital that had been receiving her boxes of treasures. The hospital that sent the letter was named for her friend Dolly, the very same friend who died in her place on that fateful flight mom was grounded from.
Dolly had plans to open a clinic for the poor in New Mexico after the war. When Dolly didn’t return, her parents built a hospital and named it for her. Somehow, someone pieced together that the woman sending boxes all of these years was Dolly’s WWII buddy. That letter lifted a burden of guilt Mom carried for over fifty years.
Mom’s greatest heroics in my opinion was staying at home, a home that was moved too many times with too little notice. My wife was born in Stuttgart Germany during the 1950s, along with other siblings while dad was stationed there. They lived in different states here in the U.S.A. and on the family farm in South Dakota. Mom was the ultimate matriarch who raised an incredible family.
The children of men and women in service have it very hard too. Is dad coming back? Will I ever see him again? What will happen to us? What will happen to me? Mom always smiled, never lost her faith, and passed her and dad’s faith on to their children and grandchildren. Yes, military families are the unsung heroes. They deserve medals and to be remembered on Memorial and Veterans Days along with the soldiers.
Mom and Dad were not warmongers as the vast majorities who have served are not. Like dad’s family who fought in the Revolutionary War, fighting for liberty was their duty, plain and simple. Their greatest fear was people would forget the hell of oppressive governments and murderous tyrants like Hitler. Mom and daD asked only one thing, that we defend freedom, the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Unlike Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese political prisoner who was given asylum here in the U.S.A. for public decrying of their government, we can safely speak out against our government leaders without fear of retaliation. We even have the freedom to protest the very people who provide and defend our freedom.
Let’s honor those who marched into hell for us by never forgetting and never relenting.