My dad was nearly 97 when he passed away in his sleep on a Friday the 13th in August. He was a great dad who lived an admirable life. He served as a wonderful role model in our family, and he earned the respect and love he received from his children.
My dad was also a World War II veteran, seeing action in Okinawa and surviving a shipboard kamikaze attack. In recent years, he proudly wore a black jacket with United States Army and WWII veteran patches sewn onto each shoulder. Worn with his WWII veteran cap, that jacket earned my dad a number of cups of free coffee and, occasionally, a complimentary meal from an appreciative restaurant proprietor in town.
After our dad died, my brothers and I were faced with the task of removing his possessions from his apartment. It was a sad responsibility, dismantling a man's life that way.
We found second homes for most of the good stuff - family members claimed some, residents of his facility were given others, and either the Goodwill or the dumpster became the next stop for the rest.
We found places for everything but our dad's WWII jacket.
The jacket was now a family treasure, too important to donate but inappropriate for any of us to actually wear. After all, none of us were WWII veterans or veterans at all. And we didn't want to misrepresent ourselves by wearing something none of us had earned the way our dad did.
So where should the jacket go? How do you respect an article of clothing with the dignity and recognition it deserves?
There was a Wall of Honor in the cafeteria of my dad's independent living facility that featured current residents who had served in various branches of the military during their lives. My dad's photo had been displayed there showing his years of service from 1943-1946.
I looked over the photos of those men and women - and found a 91-year-old man who had been in the Army from 1950-1953. It wasn't WWII, but it was close enough.
I approached the man during the next meal period and told him that my brothers and I would like to present him with our dad's jacket.
I brought the jacket down to show him. He was close to my dad's size, so it looked like the jacket would be a good fit in a number of ways.
When the man saw the jacket and reached out to accept it from me, we both felt strong waves of emotion. It was more than just a piece of clothing that was making this transition.