(For my wonderful Aunt Gladys of Chicago, Illinois)
His name was Isaiah Wilson, Jr., from Plaisance, Louisiana. He was my father, someone that I loved very much but also deeply respected. I always considered my father to be one of the great patriots of our country, someone who loved and served God, his country and his family. My father joined the Army at seventeen-years-old and served for thirty-years. He was a paratrooper that jumped into Japan at the end of World War II. He fought in Korea and also in the Vietnam campaign where his specialty was Communications. My father returned to the states from a 13-month tour of duty in Vietnam in the fall of 1968 and was stationed at the Bluegrass Army Depot, Avon, Kentucky. Dad was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism while serving in Vietnam. He was always in his Army uniform, in fact, I don’t remember a time seeing him in his civilian clothes as I was growing up. Servicemen were proud to wear their uniforms in those days, even outside of the military base. They were often seen in the grocery stores or at school functions with their children in full dress uniform or fatigues. So, it was no surprise that my dad was wearing his uniform when he and my mother planned their regularly scheduled trip to the local barber shop to get a haircut for my baby brother who was then three-years-old. I was in the Navy at the time but my mother relayed this story to me. While approaching a stop sign, my dad quickly swerved to the right to avoid hitting a group of young men and something that was burning in the middle of the street. After a few more yards, he suddenly stopped as if he had remembered something at home. He pulled the car over to the side of the street and turned off the engine. He told my mother to “stay inside the car and the lock the car doors.” After pulling the key out of the ignition, he unlocked the trunk and removed a tire iron, a military blanket and began to walk toward the young men in the middle of the street. My mother told me that she was extremely afraid and pulled my brother closer to her. She said she felt that something terrible was about to happen, but instead, my father walked calmly, directly through the middle of the young men, used the tire iron to raise a burning American flag from the rubbish and quickly wrapped it in the blanket, rubbing it until the fire was out. The young men were astonished as they watched him put the blanket under his arm. She quickly unlocked the doors and after he placed the blanket in the truck, he quietly opened the door to the car and slid in. Once inside, he began to tell my mother how hurt he was to see young American men burning the flag that he had fought for so many times and then he lowered his head and quietly began to weep. The flag and the blanket were buried in the back yard of my parents’ home in Kentucky. Although both of my parents are gone now and the flag has probably been absorbed into the earth, my father’s legacy lives on through this story that I share with you.