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Missing Man Formation

Tomorrow will mark my first Veteran’s Day without my father, a “greatest generation” veteran who served during World War II and the Korean War.

Dad served in the storied 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment and trained at Camp Toccoa, Georgia – the place made famous as the training camp for Easy Company, the paratroopers featured in the book and movie “Band George Rasley Sr.of Brothers.”

Part of the 11th Airborne Division, the 511th PIR fought with distinction in the Pacific Theater, fighting hard in the Philippines campaign, taking part in the liberation of Manila, and conducting several combat parachute jumps, including the raid at Los Baños that freed over 2,000 Allied prisoners.

While Dad wore his paratrooper’s wings proudly, he was always quick to say he came into the unit after all the “big stuff” was over, and that he was trained for a mission that never occurred – the invasion of Japan.

The airborne assault on Japan was assumed to be a near suicide mission, but, as he would always say with a grin, “Truman dropped the atomic bomb instead of me, and we won the war.”

Dad arrived in Japan as part of the occupation forces and among his souvenirs, picked-up in the Philippines or Japan, I was never clear exactly which, were a Japanese type 99 rifle, a sword, and several small Japanese flags.

When Dad was mustered out of the Army in California he bought an Indian motorcycle and headed off to Texas to work in the oil fields and eventually go to college on the GI bill, where he joined ROTC and found himself upon graduation commissioned a Second Lieutenant and posted with his new wife to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Dad expected to be sent to Korea, and as happens in time of war, my brother and I were born in quick succession at Ft. Leonard Wood’s Army hospital, but after spending the Korean War teaching others how to build and blow-up bridges, the Korean ceasefire was signed, and Dad went back to civilian life, once again having missed “the big stuff.”

He later said, “Gee, if I’d have seen Vietnam coming I would have stayed on active duty,” a remark that caused my brother and me to give each other the teenage “the Old Man is crazy” look familiar to all parents. But I later understood that, for all his success in the civilian world, he felt he had fallen short somehow, because he had missed the opportunity to put into practice the military arts he had trained so hard to acquire.

However, those skills learned in the military equipped him to become the president or chairman of practically every organization he joined, and to use the engineering degree and MBA he earned with the help of the G.I. bill to have wealth and a lifestyle that he hadn’t known as a child of the Depression.

I remember Dad sitting down at our kitchen table quickly field stripping the “Jap army rifle,” deftly working its action and depressing the magazine follower, so the bolt could be closed without any ammunition in it.

He would also perform the manual of arms, and when the bolt would open with an authoritative snap and the steel butt plate of the rifle would hit the ground it would make me involuntarily come to attention.

Dad also tried to teach me and my brother to field strip the rifle, but we were hopelessly inattentive – what we wanted to do was shoot.

Shooting the “Jap army rifle” was something that was always discussed, but that we never quite got around to doing when I was a kid, and when we boys got a little too interested in the rifle when Dad was not around to supervise, the firing pin was removed and secreted away.

Many years later, Dad gave the “Jap army rifle” to me and the sword to my brother, and it was displayed proudly along with other firearms in my collection, however, with ammunition somewhat hard to find I never really had much of an inclination to shoot it.

Two years ago, I got a call that Dad had been diagnosed with “a touch” of Alzheimer’s and not long after that a call that he had cancer, and had declined all but palliative therapy – “I’ve had a good run,” he said, and “I don’t want to be hooked-up to any machines when I go.”

Last year, about this time, I took a drive to see my Dad and brought along the “Jap army rifle.” It turned-out ammo wasn’t nearly as hard to find as I thought, and after a safety check and careful cleaning of the now 77-year old rifle it was deemed ready to shoot.

We went to Larry’s Pistol and Pawn in Huntsville, Alabama where they made a big fuss over Dad as he came through the door leaning on his cane and wearing his World War II veteran cap. Some of the staff were veterans themselves, and they took us straight to an open lane and set-up a stool for Dad.

I uncased the rifle and handed it to him and he worked the bolt with all his old dexterity, but then he handed it back saying he really didn’t feel like shooting just yet, and I should take the first turn.  I ran out the target, loaded the magazine and put six shots in the red. When I turned to him looking for that fatherly approval one craves even at age 65 he smiled and said, “You did great Son, let’s go home.”

In a childhood lived mostly far from an active military base it is hard to explain now how much the military life contributed to my upbringing; an oft resisted demand for discipline, an unwillingness to accept failure or to be stymied once a goal had been set, and a love of country were inculcated, not just by my Father, but by all my mentors and teachers, almost all veterans of World War II or Korea.

My Father, George K. Rasley, Sr., Jim Phend, my football coach and recipient of the Silver Star, Hank Classon, history teacher, Marine Corps Captain and veteran of the fierce battle for Okinawa, Bob Beeson, the gentle scholarly lawyer whose destroyer had been sunk underneath him, Roy Rogers, who once showed me a picture of himself as a ragged and cold G.I. sharing his rations with an equally ragged and cold Korean orphan – these men not only saved America and the world from Nazism and Communism, they also taught three generations of Americans how to live.

Thanks Dad. I miss you.

George K. Rasley, Jr is Editor of Richard Viguerie’s Rasley has worked in over 300 political campaigns, including campaigns in every Republican presidential campaign cycle from 1976 to 2012. He has served as a consultant, staff member or advance representative for many of America’s leading conservative candidates and elected officials, including President Ronald Reagan, Vice President Dan Quayle and GOP vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp. In the 2008 campaign he served as lead advance representative for GOP vice presidential nominee Governor Sarah Palin. His nephew, Lt. James J. Rasley, carries on a family commitment to military service that began before the American Revolution.

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