Growing up in a huge and very poor Catholic family in the 1930's and 1940's was not an easy road. It was an especially tough road in Franklin, Louisiana. The military or the mill were your two options. My dad chose to become a Marine.

Some of my earliest Memories are of my mom sitting at the kitchen table  early in the morning (with the Brasso) polishing my dad's uniform belt buckle. His perfectly polished shoes sitting on that same table on a piece of news paper with those shoe horns inside of them to keep them perfectly shaped. He was a Marine and he was going to be dressed perfectly every day. I see this in myself when I iron clothes, My wife will not iron for me because she says I want my clothes too perfect. It is just one of the things the Marines instilled in my dad and then he instilled in me. I can assure you most of these traits did not fall to the next generation.

My dad always left the house at the same time. I can assure you he was always early to report for duty. He did not take sick days and most years would sell most of his vacation days to buy something the family needed. He followed his parent's example and filled up a house with kids. There were five of us. He was an enlisted Marine with five kids and moms did not work back then. I know now  we struggled but I never knew it then. I never heard my parents talk about money. I never heard them argue.  My dad and mom made sure we had all we needed. They also made sure we did not waste.

We grew up pitching in and doing our share of the work. My dad went to work at six years old. He delivered medicine on his bike for the drug store. The fact he worked so young was not as amazing as the fact that he brought his pay home and contributed it to the family. He was not working for spending money. That fact contributed to molding him into a man who's whole life revolved around his sense of responsibility to his family. I can remember doing chores all of my life. My dad was famous for giving you an after school chore that he claimed would only take you thirty minutes; then it would take you a couple of hours.

My dad shipped out for Korea  only to be turned around because the conflict had ended. He was not so lucky when it came to Viet Nam. He really never talked about his role in fire fights and patrols. Real Marines do not talk about such things. Real Marines have a quiet pride and fight their battles in silence. They keep the battles away from the civilian world because that is part of being a Marine. I know this because my dad was a real Marine. It taught me to face my troubles with reserve and strength. It taught me that real men don't dump their troubles on others.

My dad was very proud of his family. We were sharp when we went out as a family. We had better say "yes sir" and "no Sir" .... "please" and "thank you". We had better speak only when spoken to. We were always clean and the three boys always had GI hair cuts. My dad used to cut our hair. He would put a stool out in the back yard and break out his electric clippers. If we had any friends hanging around when this happened ... they usually would quickly disappear. My dad would be happy to cut their hair also. Everybody got the same "high and tight" hair cut. We were ready for inspection. This did not stop when the seventies hit and everybody else was growing much longer hair. I can remember driving to church one Sunday with my dad in the passenger seat and him telling me "boy, you are bound and determined to let that hair touch your ears ... well I am not going to let that happen."  At the time I thought he was just a mean old Marine; now I'm glad that I learned what it felt like to be different. It has shaped my life and made me want to help others.

My dad made sure we were in church every Sunday and that we went to CCD every week. My dad taught us not only through discipline but also through example. We learned to go to work everyday. We learned the importance of God and family.  We saw him go from a private to a Captain in the Marines and then serve another 15 years as a civil servant. He went from nowhere to being able to provide a nice retirement for his wife and an excellent lead for his children to follow. We also grew up in a house where we knew we were loved.

I did not know my dad before he was a Marine. I only know that he was a damn good Marine and still is a great dad. I am so thankful that he chose the path he did. I know it has helped me also. Thanks to my dad and every American who has heard and answered the call to duty. The people who's freedom you protect ... salute you today.