This is a personal homage to a very special man, but I think readers of the “Baby Boomer” generation (65+) could also pay tribute to a beloved parent or family member who was an American veteran. That one-of-a kind patriot whose love of God, country, and family symbolized what was best and most beautiful about us. One by one, they have slipped away, the nonagenarians who served in World War II, Korea, and some in Vietnam.
Our nation is made the less by their passing. They were our greatest generation.
Such was my own father, and most recently, my father-in-law, Frank Wilson Wolf.
Please let me tell you about this extraordinary man.
Frank’s dad was born May 20, 1919. (My little granddaughter Catie shares his birthday.)
Always fond of traveling, his final destination took him to Heaven on June 29, 2013. And, oh, what a life in between!
Born in Philadelphia, the son of a dental supply salesman and one of eight children, he learned good business from his father. Figuring if people needed dental work, they must also need other goods and services as well, he went around to customers’ homes collecting life insurance premiums at approximately 15 cents a week in those days.
He was the 21st young man in New Jersey to achieve Eagle Scout and attended the Boy Scout Jamboree in Holland in 1938, meeting fellow Scouts from all over the world, acquiring a curiosity about other cultures and countries, and initiating a passion for traveling — something he and his wife June did into his 90s.
At 94, he could still recite all 12 of the Boy Scout traits: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. These were not just words to him. It was his creed. He lived each trait.
First joining the National Guard, he later served as a navigator in World War II and flew 34 missions, the reality being that after 26, the odds of surviving dropped to 50 percent.
In those days, radar was iffy, and there was no GPS. He had a fascination for maps and topography, enhanced by a keen sense of direction. Having memorized French landmarks, when an engine failed, he was able to guide his crew across the English Channel back to safety, even with the plane scraping tree tops along the way. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Brave, loyal, trustworthy, helpful, obedient.
Retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1961, he returned to school, earning a doctorate in education and political sciences. He taught at Rollins Collins and Patrick AFB. Intelligent.
Talkative, tirelessly telling war stores that turned into novels, he loved jokes, pranks, and singing goofy songs he composed. He often conversed with others in Donald Duck voice. In addressing someone, his usual greeting was “Abernadaghaz,” a word he never defined, but we figured out it meant, “Hey, good to see you. Sit down, let’s talk.”
He never met a stranger and treated everyone as if they were the most special person in his life. Kind, courteous, friendly, cheerful — and a bit silly.
A generous man he, nevertheless, weighed every purchase he made to be sure he was getting a bargain. To avoid paying tolls, he would take the back roads home, but if you were fortunate enough to be riding with him, it just gave you more time to enjoy his company. Thrifty.
And the most organized, “neat freak” I ever met. Clean.
At his memorial service, his pastor remarked on his and June’s always smiling faces, faithful attendance, and devoted service to his church. Reverent.
In honoring his memory, we sang the traditional “How Great Thou Art” and then the not-so-traditional “Let Me call You Sweetheart” (for his sweetheart June), then concluded with “Hallelujah Chorus.” We all tried bravely to sing Handel’s magnificent anthem, but we should’ve just let the organist play it while we listened in silence. Toward the end, several of us broke into giggles as the melody ran away from our feeble efforts to catch it. Frank Wolf, from his cloud up in Paradise, probably got a kick out of that.
He was a survivor in a generation of survivors, not just from warfare, but from life’s challenges, disappointments, and heartaches. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those who, into their 80s and 90s, lived on to enrich us and teach us a nobler way to live.
When we meet again, I hope to hear all new tales of his celestial experiences.
But for now, Dad, goodbye.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.