I thought of Dad and my only memory of him in this same hangar. I was 12, and there was some paperwork he wanted to pick up after Sunday Mass on base. We walked into the hangar, and Dad spotted a young enlisted man on guard duty. His nightstick was twirling down around his waist. Dad strode directly toward him, looking as imposing as a man in a turtleneck, leather sports jacket, and flared plaid pants can look. He moved the baton back up the sailor's shoulder.
"This is how it is to be worn. Got it?" The sailor, a kid really, whispered a response. "Yes, sir." I was embarrassed and proud. Now, I looked through the crowd at the sons and wondered what would happen to them without their father. Would they remember him? Would his example carry them through? Or would they crumple under the weight of what was expected and be lost?
After the ceremony ended, Alix and I walked across the street to a mothballed Prowler. In front of the plane were bronze statues of two small children, frozen in play as if captured in a light moment at the park. But their eyes gaze on golden plaques at the base of the Prowler. Each one contained the names of the naval aviators who had been killed flying the Prowler. I found Dad's name and something dawned on me: The kids' faces are frozen in the moment before they are told that their father is dead.