small girl holds american flag at parade

My Father: Remembering a Hero

My Father: Remembering a Hero

Editor’s note: April is the “Month of the Military Child.” Today’s memoir is from a grown-up military child.

As the only child of a single retired Army Captain I thought I was all alone when I got a call in the middle of the night from the cardiac intensive care unit at a hospital (four states away) in the town where my father lived.  The voice on the other end of the line told me that my dad had undergone emergency surgery, suffered a major heart attack and probably didn’t have much time.  I needed to get there as soon as possible to say good-bye.  After flying through the night and a three-hour car ride later I finally made it to my father’s side.  Although I’d seen him just a few weeks earlier, the man in the bed I didn’t recognize.  He was swollen, on a ventilator and had tubes protruding from all over his body. Where was that handsome helicopter pilot I had called daddy for the last 34 years?

By the grace of God my dad, or “Catman” as I started calling him (for he clearly had nine lives) pulled through and woke up two weeks later.  It was a daunting task, trying to make sure all of his friends around the world were notified about his condition (it wasn’t good).  After emailing everyone in his address book I sat back and waited for the replies.  One of his DUSTOFF pals, a man I now refer to as Uncle Dan, swooped into action and began forwarding my email updates to everyone in the DUSTOFF organization.   The emails I received were full of prayers, support and later, of beautiful memories of my father.

Although he never made it out of the hospital, my dad and I had four precious months together.  We learned a great deal about each other and grew to love one another more than I ever knew could be possible. We laughed, we cried and each night we played a mean game of Jeopardy. He told me how proud he was of me for being there, for taking care of him and all of the daily nothings that fill our days and mostly for taking charge at the hospital.  My Captain expressed his amazement of my knowledge of his many medical conditions and appreciated that I refused to let any outside stressors through the doors of the hospital to upset him.  Dying is stressful enough.  In return I told him how proud I was of him for everything he’d ever done; fighting for our country, overcoming adversity after a helicopter crash that left him paralyzed when I was a little girl and for being such a loving father to me and friend to so many.  I shared my knowledge of aromatherapy and skin care while he told me his views on just about everything possible.  It was during this time that it became clear to me just what a stud my father was.

We talked about everything, but the stories always seemed to go back to Viet Nam.  My dad voluntarily served two tours as a medevac pilot in combat bravely rescuing injured soldiers.  Among his many honors he was awarded The Distinguished Flying Cross.  Although he humbly down-played it, his friends, and later one of his doctors, were quick to explain to me what a huge deal this was. When I asked if he was afraid during his flights into enemy fire his reply was, “hell yes, but my God I loved it.”  And loved it he did.  When he would drift off, often after a dose of pain medication, I would watch his hands move in his sleep.  He was flying his beloved Huey.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that because of his courage generations of children and grandchildren are alive today.  To say I love and respect this man would be a massive understatement. This brave and generous soldier gave gifts he wasn’t even aware of.  He brought to my surface strength and courage I didn’t know existed.  Through his service in the Army he gave me family I never knew I had.  The men of DUSTOFF are forever my uncles.  They showed up, literally and figuratively, even as family members and friends faded.  Colonel Sylvester (now my Uncle Ernie) drove four hours each way one day to say a prayer at my father’s bedside and later delivered the most beautiful eulogy at his memorial service.  Four months later when it was time for my father’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery a handful of his buddies from Nam and Germany appeared in the family waiting room before the funeral.  We stood in a circle as they each told fantastic stories.  It was the most befitting goodbye for the hero I was lucky enough to call my father.  As the band played “Taps” by his graveside, a helicopter just happened to fly overhead.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

This month will be one year since my Catman was hospitalized.  Recently I began printing all of the emails I received during the four months he battled death.  I want to bind them so I’ll have them forever.  In the end there are over 3,000 letters of love and support; many of them from his band of brothers in the Army.  From his Huey in the sky my father, Capt. Glen A. Melton, makes me proud and continues to shower me with gifts that make me laugh, smile and help me through the hardest of days.  He is missed; he is loved and will never be forgotten.

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