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A Tribute to My Marine Corp Dad Who Waited over 50 years to be Honored

Susanna Sisson's picture
US Marine corp dad

My father, George, was the only son born to his parents and had three sisters. He grew up in a much different world. He was a marine. Semper fi. He entered the service when he was only 17 to help support his sisters, two of whom had to go to an orphanage because his mother was ill. On one mission, he lost his entire platoon. While he was a decorated marine it would be over 50 years before he would be honored and receive his medals of service as well as an unexpected surprise.

My dad was a fantastic swimmer. If circumstances had been different, who knows if he would have been an Olympic swimmer or a Hollywood movie star, rather than an underwater demolitions expert in the Pacific fighting the Japanese during WWII. Whenever I watch a John Wayne movie I am reminded of my dad because they could have been brothers, the same swagger, the same physique, the same dogged courage. My mother, while she looked a lot like Maureen O'Hara was even more beautiful. My dad met my mother on a blind date and for both it was love at first sight. They were fixed up by friends who were engaged at the time, but never married each other. My parents were married within months and my brother was born a year later.

My dad adored my mom and she him. He had a son and three daughters with my mother. He lost his parents long before I was born and because my parents both worked, after I was born, he invited my grandmother to live with us, perhaps more in the beginning to please my mom, but in the end because she was loved like his own mother. When she fell ill he took care of her like his own, and when she died I'm sure it was like losing his own mom.

My dad walked to work every day for nearly 40 years at the same job. He had a heart attack when I was only 10 years old and after, he and I walked hundreds of miles together. Later in life when he had lung cancer and would get too winded to walk, he would chase me in a 4-wheeler with the dog on the back while I ran. He commented he never knew I was such at athlete and that he wished he could run like that. It was one of my proudest and yet saddest moments of my life.

My father, George taught my brother George to be a good man and his daughters what makes up a good man and not to settle for anything less. He wasn't afraid to cry. He wasn't afraid of much except something happening to one of us. About his family he was fierce.

My dad was an incredible marksman and taught most of us to hunt. I remember going deer hunting one extremely cold morning. I was bundled up so that I could barely walk yet thrilled to be out in nature with my dad. He sat leaned up against a tree drinking coffee from a thermos; I was nestled between his legs, and suddenly from the edge of the wood this magnificent animal walked out into the open. The deer lifted his nose into the air, sniffed, looked around, then gave a satisfied snort into the cold. I sat motionless holding my breath and rather than shoot, my dad merely sat quietly, watching, knowing perhaps, that by not shooting that deer he would change my consciousness forever.

He did teach me to shoot a bow and arrow at a moving target with great accuracy, throw a knife, and shoot pool but allowed that I would rather shoot photos of animals rather than kill them. I later became a professional photographer. He didn't live long enough to hear the story of the time I taught the Russian space team to shoot pool and that a friend who started with the space program in 1965 would say to me, "Susanna, damnedest bit of diplomacy I've ever seen in my life." It is a story I think he would have loved, since he loved everything about NASA and the space program. I'll never forget the trip we took to Houston and the Johnson Space Center when I was about six years old or the stories he told while we were there. Years later my daughter and I would visit JSC often. I'm glad I had his stories to share.

My dad also never knew that one day I would live within walking distance of JSC or have engineers and astronauts for friends even though he probably always expected me to be the one child determined to see as much of the world as possible. He also never knew I raced sailboats, had my own business, lived in Hawaii or visited Pearl Harbor and the Arizona where he lost so many friends. I think he would have been proud to know I honored his fallen brothers.

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In our house you could tell it was almost dinner time because my dad would bellow for us to be quiet since it was time for Walter Cronkite. He loved the news and today I am an avid news junkie and reporter because he taught me to be curious, have my own views, and not accept anything but the facts.

Like many dads, he taught me to be self-sufficient by telling me, "Susanna, you can do anything you want if you want to badly enough." He was very proud that his three daughters became nurses and of his son who was a teacher, although my brother never knew how much. My dad was a hard worker and although he sometimes missed events or high-school football games, he listened on a portable AM/FM radio to every game and proudly cheered my brother on. Although my brother had his own family by them, he never knew until about the radio until my dad had already passed.

George taught us all to save money and to be responsible, and while he taught us to play poker it was really meant to teach us not to gamble. There is no lesson stronger than one in which you lose your bicycle to your dad playing poker. He gave it back of course, but my little sister never gambled again.

He also taught his children to stand up for what is right at all cost; that honesty, integrity, ethics and compassion were more important than money. He said to each of us at one time, "There are two things no one can ever take away from you, your education and your reputation." I remember it as if it was yesterday.

Although my dad served as a marine in WWII it would be over 50 years before he would receive his medals. It wasn't important to him, but he knew it would be important to his family when he was gone. He and my mother wrote to our congressman. Before he died, he got a package. It contained his medals, a brick from one of the barracks on Midway Island, the door front of one of the postal boxes where the soldiers received mail and something no one expected. There was also a video.

As I watched the video with my dad, the two marines on the tape spoke to my dad as if he was right there on the island and even saluted. A great sense of pride came over me. My father was a hero. He had saved lives. He had endured long hours in the water and gotten jungle rot from always being wet. He had survived when so many others had not. The two marines drove a JEEP around the island and when they mentioned the gooney birds my dad had talked about when I was a kid, one of the few things about the war he ever talked about, I felt as if I was there as well. While I could never imagine what being a teenage soldier far away from home was like, I was in that moment, and forever, grateful to my dad and everyone who has ever served in the military, near or far, for their sacrifices and service. My dad was my hero.

My father who was so humble passed away a few short months later. He lived much longer than he'd been given, and I believe it was because he loved his family so very much. I spent his last night on earth with him and we watched the sun come up together.

My dad was a Methodist but took instruction to become a Catholic because he knew it would please my mother so much. He passed away before he finished. His funeral was held at the Church we'd grown up in and the Bishop, a family friend, officiated. I will never forget the Bishop's words that day. "George lived like a Catholic, he raised his children as Catholic and by God, he is Catholic." After almost 50 years of marriage it was the one thing my mother wanted that she didn't already have because I'm sure she felt my dad had given her everything. He would have given her the world.

I read a poem she wrote about my dad and kept in her wallet, It was the most endearing message of love I've ever read in my life. Both my mom and dad will be forever missed.

Thank you for reading and please leave a comment about your dad as a tribute in the comment section. Be sure to mention his service if he was in the military. Happy Father's Day to all dads.