The sun was too bright and the sky was too blue.
There was no somber overcast sky the day we laid my father, M/SGT R.C. Thomas, USAF (ret.) to rest in the National Cemetery. The Air Force categorized it as “final travel orders” but I considered it the day I bid farewell to my best friend in 2008.
While he was on active duty for “21 years, seven months and an odd number of days,” as he used to say, there were long periods when he couldn’t be there. After all, Dad was the guy John Wayne portrayed in all of those movies. At 6’2″, 230, he was the very picture of strong and silent, serving his nation and his community as a combat medic, air-sea rescue man, volunteer firefighter and reserve deputy.
That’s a lot of man to live up to…
The brass in my pocket was still warm from the rifle salute as I drove mom out of the cemetery. She had the programs and papers in her lap and just looked out of the car windows silently.
As we wound our way through field after field of simple white headstones I started to become a little angry, a wholly inappropriate emotion. Being an election year, and having worked on several large campaigns in the past, my hubris detector was set on high.
“Nobody should be allowed to run for office unless they come here first,” I said. “Without places like this, they wouldn’t have the opportunity to run for anything.”
Mom nodded and said “You’re right. Sometimes I think nobody understands.”
I laid Mom to rest with Dad a couple of years later but a day doesn’t pass that I don’t think about what they represented and what they taught me. Instead of spending the day with barbeque and baseball, I sat on the floor and organized all of the family pictures I inherited. Stacks of Christmases and birthdays and vacations made me feel less alone.
And, if I ever grow up to be half the man, that Dad was, I’ll be satisfied.
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Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr.
Dr. Ron Thomas, Jr. teaches journalism and public relations in the graduate program at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL. He also heads Thomas Consulting Group, a consortium of experts in crisis management, media relations and leadership development.