I have always had an immense respect for the military and its service members.
My grandfather, Major Paul L. Bark, attended Virginia Military Institute in the 1950s where he met my grandmother, and then joined the U.S Army after graduation.
They lived the true military life, moving from base to base all over the U.S. and Europe. In fact, my father was born on an Army Base in Germany in 1962.
My grandfather served three tours in the Vietnam War. On his last tour, he was wounded and received the Purple Heart Medal amongst other distinguished honors. He retired from the Army in 1974 and then went on to teach history at a Catholic high school in Fort Worth, where he retired in 1990.
Growing up, there were photos spread in various places throughout my grandparent’s home, but seldom did my grandfather talk about his time in the war. I never thought twice about it as a child, but as an adult I learned about the Vietnam War and some of the heinous ways service members were treated when they returned home. I just couldn’t imagine it, seeing as how we honor those who return home from war now.
It was an incredible honor three years ago when my family and I traveled to Whidbey Island, Washington, to see my brother promoted to Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy. My grandfather was 81 at the time and in failing health, but he walked the stage with my father where they pinned my brother with his new ranks. Little did we know that he would pass away just one week after that ceremony.
Looking back now, I am especially thankful that we made the trip. My grandfather was thanked for his service by just about everyone we encountered. He was finally given the recognition that he so rightfully deserved. Having that as one of my final memories of him is a true blessing.
We knew our time with him was quickly coming to an end, and he passed away exactly 10 months and 11 days after his bride of 56 years. He was buried at DFW National Cemetery where he received full military honors. If you have never witnessed that, it is both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. My brother presenting the folded flag to my family is a sight that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
My boys who were ages seven and four loved their “Big Paw-Paw” as we so fondly called him, and I am thankful they got to know this great man. My youngest is even named after my grandfather, and is the spitting image. Both his physical features and personality are frighteningly similar, and boy am I ever in trouble!
Thank you to the all who have served, for protecting our great country and fighting for our freedom. We are forever grateful.