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Mark Alexander / October 28, 2015

Good Bye, Old Man…

Until We Meet Again

“Let the American youth never forget, that they possess a noble inheritance, bought by the toils, and sufferings, and blood of their ancestors.” —Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution (1833)

Ahead of Memorial Day 2009, I wrote a column entitled “The Class of ‘44,” devoted to my father and his entire Dartmouth class, the members of which departed the safety of their college campus in order to serve our nation in World War II. Many of them did not return home.

All told, 405,399 young American men did not survive that brutal war. Two who did survive were my father and his wingman, whose sister my father married shortly after the war.

After the Japanese surrendered, my Dad was stateside and took leave to visit his sister at a nearby college. Actually he was AWOL, having asked one of his fighter squadron wingmen to complete his PT and flights. That same wingmen suggested my Dad look up his own sister, Harriet, who was attending the same college. My Dad did just that, and after seeing each other four times, and writing a trunk load of letters back and forth, they married. Ten years later, she delivered me into the world, so I owe my existence in part, to Naval Aviation.

A few years ago, we laid Dad’s wingman, my uncle, to eternal rest. On Sunday evening my father was reunited with my Mom, who preceded him in death in 1989, and his wingman. Today I join our family and friends to bid him farewell.

I am my father’s youngest son, and the difficult task of writing his obituary, was mine. Since it was with his support and encouragement almost 20 years ago that I launched The Patriot Post, I believe it only fitting to honor his memory on our pages. He was a supporter in every sense of our mission advocating for Liberty.

The short version of my father’s life was framed by this founding precept: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” But his obituary, combined with the aforementioned “Class of '44” column, more aptly tells his story — a story that will be familiar in some important ways to anyone with a family Patriot from the Greatest Generation.

My father, named Lafayette Hardwick for his father, received the gift of life on March 3, 1923, and the gift of eternal life on October 25, 2015. He died at his east Tennessee home at age 92, surrounded by family. He was preceded in death by our Mom in 1989. He is survived by me and my four siblings, our spouses, 16 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. He is also survived by his brothers Bob (91) and Bill (90), and a large extended family.

With Brothers Bob (center) and Bill (Right)

He was, and our family remains, very blessed with his second marriage, to Betsy, who also survived him. Betsy was steadfast by my father’s side for 25 years, and he loved and adored her until his last breath.

Dad was known to his friends by his nickname “Hardrock,” and he is remembered and admired most not for his considerable accomplishments but for his depth of character and love of people. His friends were lifelong and nationwide. He was never idle and always an encourager. He was an eternal optimist, and he lived for the next sunrise.

He resided his whole life in the Chattanooga area, the descendant of our family line here since 1782. Our family’s Patriot warrior ancestry begins with those who fought with the Overmountain Men at Kings Mountain. Those early veterans turned the tide of the Revolutionary War, and their legacy extends through the generations to our own son, who today is a Marine infantry officer. Dad was fascinated by history and the context for our own family history.

He attended the small elementary school in our community and the Presbyterian church across the street. He graduated from McCallie School in nearby Chattanooga and later served as President of McCallie’s Board of Trustees. He was a graduate of Dartmouth College, Class of 1944, but did not receive his diploma until later, as he and his entire class departed to defend Liberty, at great cost, in World War II.

Dad was both proud and humbled to have served as a naval aviator, as was his father before him in World War I, who learned to land on converted destroyers just after WWI concluded. Dad inherited his father’s abundant wit and recalled this advice my grandfather gave him regarding final approach for carrier landings: “Learn to sneeze with your eyes open.”

My grandfather and father said that was good advice when approaching any challenging task!

After receiving their commissions and wings, Dad flew the formidable F4U Corsair with my mother’s brother in squadron VBF-97.

My father standing second from the left, and my mother's brother kneeling second from right

Dad’s brother Bob was a WWII Army officer, and brother Bill was a Marine. Together they shared a deep kinship with and love for their Greatest Generation peers, and all Patriot veterans and service personnel who followed, especially those in our family.

After WWII, Dad returned home. He married the sister of his wingman and went to work for his family’s small manufacturing business. He grew that business substantially and was loyal to and grateful for his many employees — “our people” as he would say. At the end of his career he managed four other companies with a combined 11,000 employees. In retirement, his global business peers elected him President of Chief Executives Organization.

In addition to providing jobs for many family breadwinners, Dad also devoted much time and energy as a leader of many civic and social organizations, and worked hard to make our community a better place for all. In the last few years of his life, he and Betsy regularly prepared and served meals for those in need at our local community kitchen lunch line.

When time permitted, my Dad was a competitive sportsman. In his younger days he was an outstanding tennis player until his knees failed him, and then an outstanding golfer until his legs failed him. He enjoyed fishing and hunting. In retirement he loved to travel with Betsy. They both thrived among friends at their winter retreat in Florida.

On a personal note … I will remember my father best for his genuine love and infectious optimism, but it took me a few years to fully understand of my old man.

When recalling my early trials with him, I’m reminded of an observation attributed to Mark Twain on fatherhood: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

As a child at our family dinner table, my father’s positive approach to life would display in something as simple as a remark about how much he’d enjoyed his lunch. I recall vividly one evening he exclaimed, “I had collard greens today, and they were the best collard greens I’ve ever had.” Now, as a youngster, in my opinion there was never enough ketchup on the table to mask the bitterness of collard greens and I could not begin to understand how any serving of those soggy mush could be “the best ever.”

But as I grew older and began to better understand my father, I realized that he truly believed the greens he had that day were “the best” he’d ever had. I came to understand that his opinion about those greens had nothing to do with the way they were prepared on that or any particular day, and everything to do with his appreciation and enjoyment of them — and many other things — every day.

I realized that, like so many in his generation who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, he learned not to assume there would be another meal or another day. He fully appreciated life, and especially the little things, like collard greens.

He witnessed a lot in his lifetime after WWII. He was distressed by the self-centered cultural devolution of the 1960s, the restoration of national pride under Ronald Reagan, and much to his disappointment, the rise of the socialist sympathizers in the last 8 years of his life – the effluent of an ungrateful generation.

But he was wise among his Greatest Generation peers, and imparted that wisdom to all who knew him, not so much in words, but by way of the example he set – living for the next sunrise, loving and appreciating the good in people around him, and finding “the best” in every single day.

I am reminded of how he lived to the day he died, by a simple dialogue between A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet: “What day is it?” asked Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favorite day,” responded Pooh.

As my father grew older and weaker, I never departed one of our regular visits with the assumption we would see each other again, and neither did he. We said our goodbyes as if they might be the last.

Overall, his life was framed by his McCallie School motto, “Honor, Truth and Duty.”

We, his family, are grateful for all those who have been so helpful with him in recent years as his health was failing, and especially in the last months of his life, when our friend Bill Guantt, also a former fighter pilot, was his companion on a daily basis.

On October 28th, we gathered to celebrate and say goodbye to a father, brother, husband, uncle, grandfather and great grandfather, all wrapped in one.

A friend remarked that theses are the best things someone can say at your funeral. “This was a faithful man. He knew what was important in life! This world is a better place because he lived! His family is going to miss him, but he left them equipped to thrive. He lived to the full, and he didn’t waste the gift of life!”

All of those things and much more can be said of my father, and his model of a grateful heart and a joyful spirit. I’m so thankful for the steadfast example he set.

For his memorial service program, my father selected these verses from the Navy Hymn:

“Eternal Father, strong to save, whose arm doth bind the restless wave, who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep its own appointed limits keep: O hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.

"Lord, guard and guide the men who fly through the great spaces of the sky. Be with them always in the air, in dark'ning storms or sunshine fair. O, hear us when we lift our prayer, for those in peril in the air.

"O Trinity of love and pow'r, our brethren shield in danger’s hour; from rock and tempest, fire and foe, protect them wheresoe'er they go; and ever let there rise to thee glad hymns of praise from land and sea.”

Tailwinds and following seas, old man! We will miss you.

A final note of gratitude to my friend Bill Gauntt, who befriended and cared for my father, easing his way into eternity. These two fighter pilots from different generations became fast friends.

Additionally, If you are so inclined, memorial gifts would be welcomed by the Patriot Foundation Trust in support of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. For more information on the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, please contact the Patriot Foundation Trust Administrator or make a donation. Please make checks payable to Patriot Foundation Trust, PO Box 507, Chattanooga, TN 37401-0507)

Now, go find “the best” in your day!

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Pro Deo et Constitutione — Libertas aut Mors
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