Welcome to Existence

Builders,

My awareness of existence starts at this point: I am wrapped in a blanket, staring up at infinite stars in the cold night sky. I am safely tucked in my father’s arm, rhythmically rocked by his walking. He took my sister and I, each in an arm, for long night walks in the hills outside Pittsburgh. it is 1964. I am 18 months old. Five decades later, this memory is as clear as if it happened last night. I have never looked into the heavens at night and failed to think of it. This was, and remains,  my welcome to existence. 

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Above, My Father’s 1949 copy of “Lucky Bag” the yearbook of the United States Naval Academy. The blanket pictured was issued to Dad when he arrived at Annapolis in 1945. The number 934 was his laundry number at the Academy. This is the same wool blanket which my father wrapped me in, while he carried me in his arms.  The blanket was here in the family home on 2/12 when Dad, surrounded by family, quietly passed from this existence.

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On Friday night the family privately bade him farewell, my mother tucked a small valentines day card in the pocket of his dress uniform.  Saturday morning, a service and words of remembrance were held at the Presbyterian Church in Summit New Jersey. His flag draped casket was at the foot of the altar. It struck me as a very small vessel for such a large life.

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At the conclusion, my brother, his sons, our cousin, our brother in law and myself carried the casket out the aisle, my mother and sisters following. It was life in reverse, as my father had walked each of my sisters down this same aisle on their wedding days. Outside, it was unseasonably warm and beautiful. I laid my hand on the casket and softly said “Goodbye Dad”.

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It was somber, but not sorrowful, as the latter requires an element of unfairness that leaves you asking why or wondering what might have been done. My fathers life had neither of those elements. He accomplished nearly everything we wanted to, and did it on his own terms, all the way to the last page. In the spring he will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. It was a life well lived with nothing to be sorry about.

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The past week had the strange sensation of the timeline of life coming to a smooth stop. I can still remember all the personal things I planned to do, but they all seem far away and unimportant right now. I have long understood that much of my life was conducted in hope that it would register on scale of value my father and his generation knew. I may have made some low marks on the scale, but I feel the contest is over and the score can no longer be improved. The benevolent, but honest umpire has left the arena. Tonight, the only thing that seems more certain than before is this: At some long future date, I wish to have my last cognizant moment of existence while I am wrapped in a gray wool blanket that says “W. E. WYNNE. 934”

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wewjr.

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Stories of William E. Wynne Sr.

Builders,

Below are excerpts from stories of my father. You can read the whole piece by clicking on the blue link. My Father never thought of himself as heroic nor special. He only wanted to be understood as part of a generation of men, who were willing to meet the challenges of their times, no matter what the cost.

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“On this day, I hope that everyone has a chance to reflect on good memories of the men who made us who we are, both the fathers still here and those that now live in the hearts of their children”. – Fathers Day – 2014.

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William E. Wynne Sr. 1925-2017 – “Shipmates of my father, even ones who gave their lives very young, had lives of meaning because they considered it their privilege to have served a cause greater than self.”

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Welcome to Existence – “It was somber, but not sorrowful, as the latter requires an element of unfairness that leaves you asking why or wondering what might have been done. My fathers life had neither of those elements.”

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Patriotism has no Party  – “The dreams are rooted in memories, unwanted souvenirs that followed him home from three wars and 33 years on active duty.  It is a near endless macabre library of images awaiting his eyes to close:”

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Values of my Father – “Father’s unambiguous code of ethics, one that dictated that ethical behavior was done simply because it was right, and any expectation of reward, even as small as public praise, reduced the action to a child’s understanding of right and wrong.”

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A clarification and a century old story. – “He didn’t want his son to see him this way, he didn’t look at my father, he just said “Take care of yourself.” My father, then 26, knowing nothing else to do, followed his fathers words, and badly shaken, got into the taxi. It was the last real moment they would have together”

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A Sailor’s code from the 1940s and 50s. – “There were a few brief years where it looked like my grandfathers one wish in life, that his son would not see what he had seen in WWI, might come true, but this didn’t last.”

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Thought for The Day – Have we squandered the great gift? – “When I can take no more, I put my hand on his, and impulsively say “I am sorry”. For a moment he looks in my eyes to assess if I really understand what the gift cost.”

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Italo Balbo in 1933, an 83 year old family story. – “He was my fathers grandfather, The father of the 34 year old woman in front of him. He had walked out on his own family 30 years earlier. My Grandmother was not there to forgive him. She was there to show him the family he would never know.”

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William Edward Wynne Sr. –  Father’s Day Notes – “My Father’s 33 years in uniform were guided by a single principal: No human being, regardless of race, faith or nationality, deserves to live in a totalitarian police state.

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William Wynne Sr. Turns 89 today – “To our friends fortunate to still have their fathers present, I feel blessed as you must also. To our friends who’s fathers now live in their hearts, I hope the season brings time to reflect on the men who made us who we are.”

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Happy Father’s Day William E. Wynne Sr.– “While all of Thailand’s neighbors, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, fell into savage rule by communist totalitarian regimes that ran from repressive police states to genocide, the Thai people were spared this trip to hell. My father remains very proud of the role he played in preventing their enslavement.”

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My best afternoon in 2016  – “Grace spent the afternoon pictured above listening to my father recall both moments of humor and sacrifice, names of men who raised good families and those who’s devotion to duty and shipmates cost them all they might have done in this life.”

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Thought for the Day: America, 1963 – “he sat with my brother, then 14, and gave him a short set of instructions; He was to follow my mother, without question or hesitation; he was to remain positive at all times, school and at home, set an example for us; and if my father did not return, he would then be the eldest man in the family.

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MCW is 60 today. – “I carry my father’s name, but truth be told, Michael is much more like my father than I am. In all the ways that count, all the qualities of character, my brother’s life is a much better tribute to the sterling example that our father gave to both of us.”

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Mom and Dad in the 1950’s _ “A while back, a friend who has known me for many years asked why I never buy lottery tickets. I told him it was because I had won once already. He asked “When?” surprised he had never heard this. I told him it was a long time ago, the last week of December ….1962, when I was born to my parents.”

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New Jersey, June 2015 and 65 years ago …  “my father, now almost 90 and somewhat frail, took the last hour of the evening to meet an obligation he finds very important;  I sit beside him and listen while he looks back through the decades to remember and speak the names and the stories of good men”

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Political Reality Check –  “Tonight I share a New York Times obituary and a disturbing souvenir from the Wynne family china cabinet as a reminder of what real political evil actually is.”

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USN sea story. – Dad, powerless, watched a perfectly choreographed maneuver fall apart.  He noticed the Japanese officer standing next to him staring incredulously. Evidently he had a very hard time rationalizing how his nation has just lost a war to clowns like these.

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Thought for the Day: Rickover – Hope is not a strategy – “my father worked directly under Rickover for 7 and 1/2 years, developing nuclear power plants. Rickover was the head of Naval Reactors, an organization that reported to both the Navy and the Atomic Energy commission.”

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How many flying seasons? With whom will you spend them? – “A good look at my oldest friends reveals no pattern nor qualification, bar a single important issue: None of them are negative people. I have a whole page devoted to explaining that it was my Father who conditioned me to detest critics of other men’s works.”

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Dec. 7th  ” my father was stunned to see Frank Ryan, standing in front of him in Passaic. He was emaciated and ill, his uniform hanging on him. He could only say to my father “Billy, they got the Vincennes.” Although it was sunk in August, this was the first word. It was the first moment that my fathers simple pride in the Navy had to confront that the fleet was not invincible. With growing foreboding, my father realized the lack of contact from friends on the Juneau might be for the same reason. In another week this was confirmed on the eve of Christmas. All 23 of the teammates and the 5 Sullivan’s had gone down with the ship. Of 697 crew on board, there were only 10 survivors. This event led my father to Join the Navy when he turned  17. He eventually spent 33 years on active duty.”

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Holiday Hours, shop dates, Family notes. – “They were searching for a shadow of doubt that they would not find. I gently hung up the phone each time and felt a palpable mixture of luck and guilt that I would keep my father and they would probably never see theirs again. Their voices contained a desperation that stays with you even 10 years later.”

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On July 14th 2016, I wrote this note:

“Today was a good day for my family. It was the first day my father was home in three months.  After dinner, where he was restored to sitting at the head of the family table,  we  reminisced over past moments with 3 of the 4 children present. We later put dad to bed, and the last thing he softly said was “I didn’t think I would make it home again.”

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On February 12th 2017, My Fathers one remaining wish in life was granted, and in the early hours of the morning he quietly passed, at home, surrounded by family. One of the last things he said to me was a few soft words, dreaming of a reunion with a man he had not seen in 57 years – his own Father.

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-wwjr.

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