Setting Sail

Lester F. Harris
Lester F. Harris

When I think of family and losses, my thoughts turn first to an uncle whom I never met. Lester Franklin Harris was the older brother to my father. Born the 21st day of February in 1918, Uncle Lester came of age during the depression era. He helped run the family farm for a few years after graduation from high school. In 1941, with conflicts escalating all over the world, he joined the US Navy and headed to the Great Lakes for training.

Lester did not make it home from World War II. His loss came years before any of my generation arrived, so none of us had the chance to know Uncle Lester. But we heard about him. My cousin, the son of Lester’s older sister, was named after him with a middle name of Lester. Additionally, David Lester’s life was so impacted by his mother’s love for her brother that he later joined the US Navy himself and remained active in the Navy reserves for many years beyond his active duty.

When the telegraph bearing news of Lester’s presumed death arrived at his home, the family–my family–bore a tragic shock. His parents had lost a son. His sister and younger brothers had lost their brother. His fiance had lost her soul mate. And those of us who came later not only lost an uncle, we lost the aunt he would have brought into the family, and any cousins who might arrived. Growing up, we didn’t know we had lost anything in particular. We’d never known the world with Lester in it. So how could we miss him?

Decades later, after the deaths of his younger brothers, I have found a box of Lester’s letters. And I understand. My grandmother saved everything. She filled a scrapbook with postcards he sent, photos, and other memories. Through his own words, I am now learning who my uncle was, what he meant to the family, and the scope of his tragic and untimely death. Over the next few months, I will post those letters, on the anniversaries of their origin, and share a few of the memories from over seventy years ago.

Today’s post is a speech he gave at his high school graduation. As salutatorian of his class, he was expected to address those in attendance. Surprisingly enough, or maybe without surprise, he spoke of a ship setting sail as a metaphor for graduates launching into their lives after school days are over. I post it today, for it was possibly on this date in the year 1941 when Lester left home for his basic training.

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Setting Sail
This week will see members of senior classes from all parts of the United States receiving their diplomas and setting sail on their life vocations.
 
When a ship starts on a voyage it is loaded with fuel. If the ship is large or the voyage long, stops may be made at several fueling stations. So it is in our life. Our fuel is knowledge, gleaned from our school life. Our first fueling station is the eight years of grade school. Our second, high school, and for those doing larger things in life, a third, college.
 
Ships are always in danger of being veered from their course by storms, of running onto hidden reefs or rocks. Our storms are discouragements, financial reverses or perhaps choosing the wrong vocation. The sunken reefs and rocks are perhaps the association with the wrong kind of friends.
 
However a ship does not by any means sail blindly. It has a pilot, lighthouses, and buoys to guide it and mark the dangerous spots. A young graduate’s pilot can be a number of persons—his parents, his teachers, or his friends. Usually each has a large part in determining what route the graduate will take. The lighthouses and buoys are perhaps business partners or others who can help to mark the best course for the graduate who is “Setting Sail” on new seas.
 
Lester F. Harris, Salutatorian
Senior Class of Dunlap Rural High School
Dunlap, Morris County, Kansas
May 13, 1936OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Reprise TJ Junkins

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn this journey through life, a chance meeting with another person occasionally develops into a unique and treasured friendship.  Today I honor World War II veteran and fellow writer Tom Junkins.

I met Tom at the first writing event I attended following my return to writing.  About the age of my own father, Tom had devoted his waning years to recording his life experiences.  He printed books, bound them, and offered them to his family and friends.  He threw himself enthusiastically into the writing life.

Together we traveled to monthly meetings.  He provided enthusiastic encouragement for my projects.  I helped him produce one of his memoir volumes.  In a conversational voice, Tom’s memoirs recorded his stories as if he spoke to his grandchildren.  When his health declined, he responded with wit and good humor, in the style I came to know as Tom’s unique voice.

He wrote, “On Friday June the third at five in the evening, my right leg went numb.  I called 911.  They put me in an ambulance and sent me to Via Christi, St. Francis.  They landed on me like a bunch of crows on road kill, ran all kinds of scans and tests, and scheduled surgery with a vascular surgeon for Sunday morning to remove a blood clot.”

Our days of writer’s meetings drew to a close with his move to the Veteran’s Home.  Tom still wrote daily, even as he struggled with growing physical limitations.  What have I learned from this writer?  He displayed grace and courage when facing his health issues.  In this way he reminded me of my own father.

But more than that, Tom’s dedication to the written word is testament to the vitality we find in books.  By writing stories for his family, Tom created a gift they can enjoy forever.  As I sit in my office, I am surrounded by books, by journals of my lost parents, and letters from long-gone relatives and friends.  They live through their words.  Their essence and personality shine into my life.  When I read words written by giants of my past, their voices echo in my mind.  And I know they are still with me, in words and in spirit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne week ago, Tom Junkins passed from this life. His words speak now only from pages he wrote. With his passing, he joined those giants of my past whose journals and letters provide sustenance for my future. I humbly repost this blog in his honor. I will long remember his enthusiasm for writing. Here’s to you, Tom. May your adventures continue into the next life.

Surrounded by Giants

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn this journey through life, a chance meeting with another person occasionally develops into a unique and treasured friendship.  Today I honor World War II veteran and fellow writer Tom Junkins.

I met Tom at the first writing event I attended following my return to writing.  About the age of my own father, Tom had devoted his waning years to recording his life experiences.  He printed books, bound them, and offered them to his family and friends.  He threw himself enthusiastically into the writing life.

Together we traveled to monthly meetings.  He provided enthusiastic encouragement for my projects.  I helped him produce one of his memoir volumes.  In a conversational voice, Tom’s memoirs recorded his stories as if he spoke to his grandchildren.  When his health declined, he responded with wit and good humor, in the style I came to know as Tom’s unique voice.

He wrote, “On Friday June the third at five in the evening, my right leg went numb.  I called 911.  They put me in an ambulance and sent me to Via Christi, St. Francis.  They landed on me like a bunch of crows on road kill, ran all kinds of scans and tests, and scheduled surgery with a vascular surgeon for Sunday morning to remove a blood clot.”

Our days of writer’s meetings drew to a close with his move to the Veteran’s Home.  Tom still wrote daily, even as he struggled with growing physical limitations.  What have I learned from this writer?  He displayed grace and courage when facing his health issues.  In this way he reminded me of my own father.

But more than that, Tom’s dedication to the written word is testament to the vitality we find in books.  By writing stories for his family, Tom created a gift they can enjoy forever.  As I sit in my office, I am surrounded by books, by journals of my lost parents, and letters from long-gone relatives and friends.  They live through their words.  Their essence and personality shine into my life.  When I read words written by giants of my past, their voices echo in my mind.  And I know they are still with me, in words and in spirit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne week ago, Tom Junkins passed from this life. His words speak now only from pages he wrote. With his passing, he joined those giants of my past whose journals and letters provide sustenance for my future. I humbly repost this blog in his honor. I will long remember his enthusiasm for writing. Here’s to you, Tom. May your adventures continue into the next life.