I can still hear my dad reciting this poem.
My dad was a Veteran, home on leave from the Air Force when he met my mom at a dance at the college. Friday, March 13, 1953. Ten days later he asked her to marry him, just before he returned to duty. She said yes. He sent her a small diamond in the mail. They married November 7, after ‘courting’ by mail for those months, with an occasional phone call. Their honeymoon was the trip back East.
Dad grew up doing things that are frowned upon in many cities today – hunting, fishing, trapping, rodeo… He was a brilliant man, with talents beyond measure. He knew lots of poems by heart, and would recite them for us, especially if he’d had a drink or two. He was a fiend for History. He loved to fly. He was a Green Beret. He could play piano and harmonica by ear. He was so brilliant that new jobs bored him to the point of anger within months of a move, sometimes just weeks. So he’d find another, tell Mom, and she’d begin another preparation to pack out again. Their fights were legendary, but they really did love each other so very much.
At Christmas 1989 I was with my husband and daughter at Hubby’s parents’ in Indiana. We were on our way to our next duty station in Florida. Shortly before Christmas, the phone rang and my mother-in-law handed it to me, saying it was my mother. Dad had had exploratory surgery to find out what was what with some symptoms he’d been experiencing for a very long time. Having had no luck convincing the VA docs there was anything wrong with him, he found a local doctor and the result was…grim. Cancer. Without treatment, he’d have about 2 years to live. And he refused treatment, saying if he was going to die, he didn’t want to do it in a hospital bed in Salt Lake City. Or Denver. Or Cheyenne. Or anywhere else. He’d already BEEN in all those places over the years.
In the summer of 1991, my sister got married in Colorado, and Dad flew or drove the whole family in for the celebration. My sister’s marriage lasted until October.
On Veteran’s Day, which was a Monday that year, my husband, daughter and I went to the Veteran’s Day parade held in downtown Jax. We walked around some afterwards, had something to eat, drove around some…got home around 5:30 or 6. I was getting Kaitlin situated for nighttime when the phone rang. It was my mom. She said, “He’s gone.” What? “Your dad’s gone.”
I had talked to him, because he called nearly every week. But I didn’t know that when he drove Kaitlin and I up to Aspen and around that area, that it would be the last time I saw him alive.
My favorite version of “our” song (music only):
SSgt Michael Henry Cassel
Husband, Father, Grandfather…Cowboy, Teacher, Hunter, Poet, Student, Warrior
Born 19 May 1932
Died 11 November 1991