Tough Act to Follow (1 of 4)
I have been telling about my father Wilse A. Edwards for 45 years but never knew where to start the ink.
Cliff and I—and Susan—were lucky to have him. His story is an American story. Small town boy who walks on and makes the University of Arkansas track team, earns a Razorback track scholarship, learns to fly a plane, civil engineering to US Navy Seabees.
There is a lot missing in this story of courage and patriotism as he volunteers to leave college after Pearl Harbor and is shipped to the South Pacific. Guadalcanal, Philippines, Solomon Islands. 124th NCB (Naval Construction Battalion) and the 44th Marines. These were the fighting Seabees (C.B.’s) of beach landing.
He drove a bulldozer with 30 caliber and flame-throwers riding shotgun. As a C.D.C (Construction Driver Chief), he led 47 other bulldozers with the 43rd Marines through a sweep of islands in the South Pacific to Alaska (Aleutians) to build and repair runways for our American assault on the mainland of Japan.
He had several close calls. Dad reported in a newspaper interview after the war that fighting Jap soldiers was like Arkansas rabbit hunting in the snow. They stick their head up, and you shoot them. He was not a bigot. He was just reporting it as he saw and remembered. You see, the Americans they found had been captured and tortured.
He never talked about the war unless you asked. I noticed him at public parades shedding tears when the American flag marched by. He was elected mayor of his hometown when he got home (six months after it was over). He loved the U.S.A., his family.
He attended a Methodist church with me two weeks before he died of a heart attack. He held my hand that day, and as the pastor closed the service he squeezed my hand. I guessed then that was “I love you” in Wilse-speak. He was very reserved and didn’t talk much. You had to interview him.
We moved a lot, nineteen times in the first nine years of my schooling. As a resident engineer, he was supervising the building on Air Force S.A.C. bases, airport runways, and later, nuclear missile bases. He was in the Army Corps of Engineers. Some of his Cold War era duty was also under supervision of S.A.C. (Strategic Air Command).
We (Dad, Cliff, and I) used to go to air bases and watch the fighter jets scramble. Then, fighter jets had thirty-seconds to go to fire up after burners and get off the ground for National Defense Trials. We got to gather the jets’ parachutes after they landed and cut them loose. We used them for beach tents at Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
We beach-combed on weekends at a fishing village called Destin. We had a Willy’s Woody 4x4. Destin was a beach target range, and Dad—along with officers and high brass—had S.A.C. bumper stickers for beach clearance. We found spent shell casings as we explored the sandy shores.
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