Happy Veteran’s Day Dad!
I want to take a minute and honor my dad, the Rev. Keith Leap. I have a pretty keen memory, and it reaches far into my past. So one of my earliest memories is of my dad taking me fishing the day before he shipped out to Vietnam. Dad was a company clerk with the 1st Cavalry Division, Airmobile. He was in country in 1968. There, he was in constant peril from small arms fire, rocket and mortar attacks and all the other endless ways that a war zone can end one’s life. He was young, and thin as a rail. I can see the photos in my mind, although I don’t have any of them. But what I remember vividly is that day fishing at Twin Lakes in Huntington, WV. I seem to recall that it was foggy, and that because I was three, most of our fishing consisted of me dropping a line into the grassy shallows next to our feet. We never caught anything. We’re both, quite frankly, pretty abysmal outdoorsmen. But he took the time before leaving. That sticks. When he returned, thank God, he was posted at Fort Monroe in Hampton, VA. We lived there a time and I loved the military feel of the place. I remember the commissary, where there were dioramas of POWs in fake grass huts over the freezer section. And I remember the PX, where (in that time in history) a boy could find the coolest toy guns ever, from toy belt fed machine guns to toy bazookas. We took our guns seriously back then! I had a little uniform, with a 1st Cavalry unit patch and my name. It was the old olive drab, and I had a helmet and a wood and steel bolt-action toy rifle with a real fake bullet in the breach. I was the baddest of the bad! But only because I was trying to emulate my hero. I have had an adventurous life. I have flown to car crash scenes in a medical helicopter. I have opened the chests of those with wounds to the heart. I have traveled the world, and I have been a consultant on WMD for the DoD. I have married and loved a dream of a woman, and raised four children to be his grandchildren. And yet, so much of my adventure was my attempt to equal my father’s courage and service. I was in the Air National Guard for a number of years. I was a flight surgeon, in fact, with an F-16 squadron in Indiana. And on the night that Desert Storm began, I was rocking babies in the nursery, an intern desperately frustrated that there was an honest to God war and I couldn’t be there. Not that war is good. But a man wants to match his father. When veterans stand in church, I am always a little slow to stand. My service cost me so little. His could well have cost his life. That’s why we went fishing that misty WV morning, a day so full of import that a boy little more than a toddler still remembers it at 51. Dad ultimately became a much beloved pastor, now retired. War did not end for him, it just became the war for the soul of man, the war eternal, of which our temporal and frequent outbreaks of international blood-letting are merely the consequence. And for that I honor him as well. Having been a church attending Christian for most of my adult life, I suspect that enemy fire is easier to bear than the bitter attitudes, stubbornness and outright cruelty that can emanate from so-called Christian church members. So here’s to you, Pop. Happy Veteran’s Day. Veteran of war, veteran of fatherhood, faithful husband, committed pastor and longtime lover of Foghorn Leghorn. I say, I say, I say, You da’ man! Love you, Ed