Unsung Heroes – The “Greatest Generation” Gave Us Many Things

by | Jan 9, 2023

As with any story, there were some “minor” characters in my book The Intrepid Brotherhood.  Minor only in the sense that they are mentioned briefly or had minimal impact in the story, not in the sense that they did not make important contributions to the world.  One such individual is my father.  He is mentioned several times in the book, sometimes along with my mother.  Perhaps his most vivid image is as a character witness during my court proceeding against Chelan County Public Utility District.  People saw a frail, aged man who had to walk with a cane.  But his mental acuity allowed him to convey to the jury the damage done to our family cohesiveness that was inflicted by my former employer.  His calm description of how my dismissal had removed their primary local source for emotional support and how, in the end, it may have hastened my mother’s passing was extremely moving ….. and entirely honest.  Although my attorney and I had not placed a lot of burden on him in preparation for testimony that day, I would have expected nothing less from this man.

My father, Cecil J. Graham, Jr., was born December 19, 1919 in Culver City, Los Angeles County, California.  He had one younger brother, my uncle John.  His only sister Elizabeth died shortly after her birth the year before he was born.  His father (my grandfather) Cecil J. Graham, Sr., died at the age of 52 in 1943 when my dad was 24 years old and 6 years before I was born. 

I knew my paternal grandmother fairly well as I was growing up and the image she portrayed of my father was that he was independent, self-reliant and somewhat aloof.  He met my mother when he was 9 and she was 7.  My maternal grandparents were running a walnut orchard near where my dad lived.  By the time mom passed in 2008, they had known each other for almost 80 years and been married for 65.

Dad set football and track records at Canoga Park High School, but they had long been eclipsed by the time I was old enough to hear his stories about them.  After high school, he went on to the California Polytechnic College (soon to be Cal Poly University) in San Luis Obispo to study agricultural science.  He was the acting president of the very first baccalaureate graduating class in 1942.  I say “acting” because he was actually the elected vice-president, but prior to graduation ceremonies the class president just disappeared.  His name was Fred Kobayashi, and he was Japanese.  The attack on Pearl Harbor the previous December had provoked our country to establish internment camps for people of Japanese descent.  Fred’s family was undoubtedly caught up in this hysteria.  Dad never saw or spoke to him again.

Although the experience of his former classmate did not set well with him, my father immediately enlisted in the armed forces after graduation.  He applied for Officer Candidate School and received his 2nd Lieutenant Commission in April, 1943.  He served with the Army in the South Pacific and distinguished himself as a combat leader.  He received several combat commendations, including the Bronze Star.  The circumstances surrounding his Bronze Star award were pretty impressive. Maybe my dad wasn’t Audie Murphy, but he was certainly a war hero. He didn’t talk much about his experiences in that conflict, but there is one story I remember.    For several nights in August, 1945 his platoon sat in ambush on an island off southern Leyte.  Reconnaissance had prepared them for intense combat, so they were very uneasy.  But, the enemy never came.  When my father’s platoon finally descended off the mountain they learned that Japan had surrendered two days earlier. 

Dad had established himself as a leader, so I am sure it seemed somewhat natural for him to continue his military service after the war.  He was initially a Captain in the Army reserve, eventually retiring from the Army National Guard in 1964 as Battalion Commander of the 184th Infantry in Sacramento, California with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  Late in life, while he and my mother were living close to my family in Wenatchee, a local resident named Carl Nash stopped by to see my father.  He said he was certain that my dad should have received the Philippine Liberation medal since he was an active part of the forces in the South Pacific when General MacArthur returned to liberate the Philippines in July, 1945.  Carl was instrumental in acquiring that medal and recognition for my father.

My father’s civilian career was with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.  He retired after 30 years in December, 1976 as Chief of Land Resources Branch, having received the Meritorious Service Award for “significant contributions in the development of effective programs in pest control, soil and moisture conservation, and land management.”

Although much of his leadership capability came naturally, most of the discipline and guidance that my father applied were learned under the military model.  That methodology is not typically recognized as an example of a “learning organization”.  There really isn’t much accommodation for feedback, or disagreement and conflict resolution.  Still, I look back on how my dad approached life and I recognize character attributes that indicate to me that, in many ways, he embodied the ethics necessary for leaders to be successful today.  I see wisdom and temperance in the way he approached potentially volatile situations.  He was certainly not impulsive.  He simply lived his purpose, as evidenced by the fact that he was able to set an example without it being obvious that he had consciously attempted to teach a lesson.  Another illustration of this is the fact that the entire time I knew him I can’t recall ever once hearing him utter a disparaging racial epithet. 

Dad passed away less than 6 months after he testified at my trial.  I took care of his final arrangements and settled his estate.  Since he did not want any kind of service after death, I’ve never really taken the opportunity to reflect and tell his story.  This is a brief attempt to show how his character affected me and, perhaps, was the primary reason I had no other choice than to stand up to the toxic leadership detailed in The Intrepid Brotherhood.

When he was on the precipice of death, in and out of consciousness lying in a hospital bed, he wakened once and turned toward me.  He uttered, “there you are……..every time I turn, there you are”.  I’ll never really know what visage he actually saw at that moment.  Perhaps it was my mother who had passed 11 months prior.  Or my sister who had predeceased them both.  Maybe it was someone or something completely unknown, that he had seen several times ……… and recently, more frequently.  Or, it might be he was just recognizing my presence as my last living parent slipped away.

Regardless, he humbled me greatly.

Stay Courageous,