- - Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Jan. 26, 1969, I was 3 years old and learning to ride a Shetland pony named “Trigger” with my Uncle Don in San Antonio, Texas.

Halfway around the world in Dau Tieng, Tay Ninh Provice, Vietnam, my father, Capt. Gary Dean Humphries, was killed in action. They didn’t call that area “Rocket Alley” for nothing.

He was only 24 years old … That hits me hard every so often, TWENTY FOUR!

I am now double the age he was when he was killed.

He never saw the moon landing.

He never saw me graduate from college, or get married, or my first time on radio or, TV, or my first published column. Heck, he didn’t see my first day of kindergarten.

He never met my two beautiful, fun, intelligent daughters.

Part of what hurts most is that I don’t remember him very well. Just two brief glimpses flash through my mind when I try to stretch my memory back that far.

Even though I didn’t know my father, he has left an indelible imprint on my life. Not just that part of the family DNA we share. The pride in the accomplishments he made at such a young age. The honor and courage he showed, when I hear his stories of his service from those who served with him.

His memory inspires me to be my best:

To support our military and traveling to war zones to make sure the stories of our troops are told accurately and fairly.

To work with veterans groups and help raise money for the WWII Memorial and the upcoming Education Center at The Wall.

A part of me shudders when I see Uncle Sam on TV screaming about the BIG Memorial Day sale down at the furniture store. Then I pause … that is the reason my father fought and died. The same as all the others who sacrificed their lives … so we could be free. Free to enjoy our hot dogs and hamburgers with our family and friends on a warm, long weekend in May. Free to celebrate what makes our nation and her people extraordinary. And yes, free to forget.

It took me nearly 20 years to find out what happened that day outside a rubber tree farm in 1969. The emptiness of losing my father never goes away. I was lucky though, my mother remarried a great guy, and I grew up healthy and happy. The life any father would want for his son.

My hope? When my fellow Americans enjoy this wonderful day off from work, they will take a moment, just a moment to tell their children what Memorial Day means and how blessed they are to be Americans.

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