My father passed away in 2009 at the age of 88. It affected me much more than I could ever have imagined.
He flew for the United States Air Corps in WWII. He took his primary flight training at Stockton Field, California, and graduated in 1941. My father, Richard, apparently received a letter from his father, Verto, before Dad was off “for points West” in 1941.
I found this letter amongst my Dad’s things in 2009, buried in his desk, in an envelope bearing the return address of a law firm in Dallas, Texas, postmarked 1979. It was addressed to my grandmother, his mother, likewise in Dallas.
Because of this circumstance, I wondered: Why was it sent from a law firm to his mother? Did my father ever see this letter when it was meant to be seen? When his father was still alive? Or did he only see it when his mother’s estate closed, after his father passed away?
I’ll never know.
Typewritten on onion-skin, the words within are poignant, sage, prescient. They moved me. I think they’ll speak to everyone else as well.
I hope that I can finish this letter so that it can be mailed in sufficient time to reach you before you board the rattler for points West and your next experience in training for an eaglet in the Air Service of Uncle Sam.
I have learned that the very cheapest thing one will ever run across in this life is advice because everyone wants to give it away and so few will ever accept it. So I have been several hours in completing these paragraphs, blue penciling here and there lest I make my epistle a treatise on the “more abundant life” of New Deal parentage rather than a few timely remarks covering the fundamentals which do provide and form the background as happiness and success as America measures them.
And, I might add here, that I fervently hope that this same American measurement as applied to happiness and success will continue to be the yardstick for many years, so work hard and be ready to do your part if necessary to annihilate any and all of the cockeyed Fascist or Communist interpretations of what is best for mankind and its soul.
I shouldn’t be a bit surprised that the first week or two after you leave home, that you will be amazed at the really remarkable memory you possess and in your particular case, it will be a pleasant memory. This is what is commonly called “Homesickness” but when it is stripped right down to the chassis it is merely an association of pleasant thoughts, pleasant surroundings and pleasant people who are vitally interested in you, plus an overwhelming sense of a loss of security. Doctors sometimes use what they call a counter irritant to take the mind off the chief pain or trouble of their patient and the best counter irritant to an acute attack of “pleasing memories” is deep concentration on your work.
You should be extremely grateful in that you have been a fairly regular attendant at Sunday School, of a splendid common sense religion and, without even dwelling on the manifold advantages of a good Sunday School background, one of the most practical benefits it will give you is that it will help you to see things in their true proportion.
Jesus once had something to say about people who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, and one of the chief causes of much unhappiness in life is our confusion as to the relative importance of things.
So many trifles seem to big and important; we indulge ourselves so much in fretting and rebelling against the minor things, we can endure a severe physical pain with genuine stoicism, but the bark of a dog or the crunch of crackers upsets us tremendously.
Whenever you feel that you are beset with many troubles, take a little time off and look into the Bible, particularly the New Testament; it will do you a lot of good, and you will be amazed how your troubles will disappear. The Bible does teach you to see the big things of life in a big way and the minor things as minor ones; it will give anybody true perspective.
As you go through life, you will learn that the simple life is the most effective one and also the happiest. Regardless of anyone’s argument to the contrary, you will always find that the really big successful people in America today, regardless of simple pleasures, have simple taste, are very modest and usually have a deep religious character. McKinley, a great President, put corned beef and cabbage on the White House menu, and I expect, if you knew the real “low down” on that commanding officer of yours, you would find that perhaps he has a secret yen for growing nasturtiums.
The more successful they come the more big people are interested in getting information; they never hesitate to learn from anyone. Only small potatoes with warped mentalities are showy or pretentious, and those with an obnoxious abundance of conversation about themselves generally are using their long winded gyrations to cover up their deficiencies. Always remember that egotism is the cause of more conversation than learning or wit.
My experiences and observations have taught me that honesty is not only the best policy but it is the only policy, because dishonesty is its own downfall, sooner or later. It has been said that many wealthy people have obtained their money or their power by dishonest means and perhaps that is so. But you will always find that sooner or later either their conscience or the law catches up with them and the fellow with the big stick ends up either with a shiny seat in his pants or a hard cell in the hoosegow. Dishonesty is like that queer implement that Australians use, the “boomerang”: it always makes the circuit and always comes back and smacks you in the face when you aren’t looking.
Dishonesty never paid dividends to anyone. It is just about as dangerous as an elephant hanging over the edge of a cliff with his tail tied to a daisy.
And now to an element a little less mental than some I have mentioned, but none the less important and that is WORK. Work is essential to success in any line of endeavor and don’t let any of the textbooks tell you differently. Some people have said that worry kills more men than work, and that is true because more men worry than work. So far as I know no one ever died from work in this country, but thousands may die in this country if we don’t settle down to work soon.
Truly work is the most fascinating thing in the world. It rests the soul, it feeds the brain, and it gives a sense of security that is really marvelous. Never envy those who have apparently nothing on their hands but time and nothing on the brains but hair. You will get more downright thrill in the simplest job well done than
they will ever get in a lifetime. Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished except by work and any success you ever heard of was the result of one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
As a matter of fact, you will find the economic progress of any nation is generally measured by its working hour. The real fortunes and the real industries of this nation were the result not of the 40 five day week, but a working day of dawn to dusk with Wednesday off for prayer meeting. The calamity howlers have spread their gospel that America is in terrible condition, but let me assure you that there is nothing whosoever wrong with America that work won’t cure.
I must bring this letter to a close. I have merely scratched the surface of a few important things it will pay you to remember. I do hope you ahve not been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age and don’t let the doleful howls of a few hair-brained spell-binders upset you.
You shall soon be in the greatest service of the greatest and finest nation in recorded history; its principles of free speech and free enterprise shall exist. You have lived as a youngster in a period when economic and social upheavals have caused a temporary distortion in the American manner of progress, but mind you, this is only temporary and America will come out of it, for faith and freedom and security are just as near at hand today as ever before.
You are indeed a fortunate individual in that you are on the threshold of the new America that will arm itself to insure the retention of its principles of freedom, and by the very reason of your being a part of this greater respect and a deeper love of those principles for which America stands.
So in the realization of a real success in the job you have ahead of you and I have complete confidence that you will be a success which can be measured only in terms of Honesty, Simplicity, Tolerance and Respectability — there can be no greater honor or reward that could possibly come to me than in being —
P. S. I am enclosing a check in case you might need a little cash before your first pay-day. Remember, never open a pot with two pair when the deuces are wild.
Would my father recognize this nation today, just 11 years after his passing?