He served three tours in Korea. He quit high school to join the U.S. Army. The Army trained him as a paratrooper and he had a tattoo on his arm representing it. On his left hand he had the word “LOVE” tattooed, one letter on each of his fingers. He was proud military with a hint of hippie.
My father, a Korean War veteran, was raised Presbyterian but he had a lot of Zen in him. He used to say things like: “if you pull a flower out of the ground, the moon shakes.”
Ironically, after his military service he refused to ride in an airplane and he didn’t like to leave home very much. He also never owned a gun except for the last few years of his life. He bought a rifle when a drug addled neighbor across the street threatened him. But he hated having a tool used for killing in his home. But he was a realist and understood the horror of behavior that other human beings are willing to commit.
He belonged to the American Legion and served in the U.S. Army Reserves for many years, including at Fort Des Moines, when it was used for that purpose. He worked as a recruiter for the Reserves. He recruited many people because he had such passion and respect for the discipline the military taught him. Even though he didn’t recruit me to the military (much to his chagrin), he did pass along personal discipline to me and that I learned how to solve problems through him. In addition to his Presbyterian upbringing, he was raised on a farm, so he knew how to fix things. There were many an Iowa winter day he would have the hood raised on our cars working and swearing to start them in frigid conditions. Although he was Army he swore like a sailor.
He also taught me a lot about politics saying “follow the money” and that will tell you what people’s motivations are. He listened to Rush Limbaugh but he supported Democratic politicians.He owed a debt of gratitude to former Iowa Gov. and Sen. Harold Hughes who advocated for my dad to have his discharge from the army be ruled honorable. My dad had several situations in the Army involving alcohol and Gov. Hughes was a big proponent for people with this illness. War is not pretty so I have an understanding why many military people turn to alcohol to cope.
My father successfully overcame his struggle with alcohol and he gave up other habits that helped him cope with life’s stress, including his Pall Malls. He didn’t wear a patch, chew gum, or learn hypnotherapy. He decided to quit and so he did. He found the best therapy after that through gardening. He loved being in his garden and sharing his produce with neighbors.
The most important thing he taught me, though, was this: “it’s better to have nothing then a little bit of something.” It took me a long time for me to understand that koan. But I understand now. It’s better to be on your own then to surround yourself with people who are only there during fair weather.
RIP. Sgt. Hollis Eugene Perry