He was just 15 the first time he tried to enlist in the Marines, a scared teenager, the son of a poor hired hand and a mother whose mother had died a month after she was born.
He was one of six, five boys and a baby sister. He was the tenderhearted one, the one most likely to help the others. The one who was talked into pranks by his older brothers, such as putting tacks behind and in front of the tires of his teacher’s old Ford. And rumor has it he was the one who locked the outhouse door when the teacher went out to sit a spell.
His father was prone to drink away most of his earnings. Early on his mother, in order to make sure her sons were fed, sent them to live with neighbors where they did odd jobs for their room and board. He was one of the first to go and live for long periods of time with others. His easy-going manner made him like a substitute son for those he lived with. Though he loved those he stayed with something always drew him back home. He loved and honored his parents.
When he was nine, he lived with one of his aunts. She took him to church every Sunday at a little country Baptist church. It was there that he heard there was a God in heaven who not only loved him but also gave His son to die for him.
He accepted Jesus during a revival service. His brother also walked the aisle with him. However, years later his brother would say, “I went down a dry sinner and came up a wet one but it stuck with my brother.” Though not the best theology, what his brother was trying to say was he lived his life by Godly principles even from a young age.
Enlists in the Marines
In the late 1940s if a young person came from a poor family about the only chance they had to change that was to enlist in the service. The first time he was turned down. His blood pressure went sky high because he was lying about his age. The sergeant pulled him and a few others who were too young to enlist aside and said, “I’m going to send you boys back home to your Mommas. Come back when you are old enough.”
He enlisted in the Marines because he wanted to be the best and serve his country in a branch of service he considered of the finest quality. He quickly became known as a young man of honor and character. He applied for and became a chaplain’s assistant mainly because he had been considering going into the ministry.
With unrest in the world, the Korean War started soon after he enlisted. He was dispatched to Korea as a tank driver. He often said a tank was the second safest place to be with the first safest place being in the center of God’s protective hand. Never one to hunt or shoot, in the Marines he was required to do both. Although difficult, he did it out of duty to his family, his country and his God.
A year before his term service was up, he married his sweetheart. When he was on leave he asked her father and mother if he could marry her. He explained that he wanted to take her back with him and they would be married in Camp Lejune, NC. Although her parents weren’t happy about the elopement from Missouri to NC and the fact that they wouldn’t be present for the wedding, they gave them their blessing and a wedding gift of $100 cash to help them get there and begin their life together.
The firsts of many
Through the benefit of the G.I. bill, he went to Waxahachie Bible College in Waxahachie, Tex., finishing his Bachelor’s in Bible from Central Bible College in Springfield. He became the first in many generations of his family to obtain a college degree. He was the first male in many generations not to succumb to the addiction of alcohol. He was the first to become a pastor.
There are so many things I could say about this man. I suppose I’m writing this because this is Veteran’s Day and I’m remembering his desire to serve not only his country but also every person he ever met.
I never knew him to say an unkind word about anyone. If the conversation turned towards negatives about someone, he would think long and hard and then come up with something positive to say. He was always doing something for someone else, mowing a lawn, giving money, buying groceries, paying a bill, stopping by to visit with a shut-in, praying with a pastor who needed encouragement. He kept confidences that he took to his grave because those who knew him knew he would never tell a soul.
The heart of a pastor
Always a pastor, he was even a pastor to his own family winning as many as possible of his extended family members to Christ. One brother he led to Jesus even became a pastor himself. In his later years, he was a leader in making sure his mother had what she needed.
At one point he searched for the grave of a baby sister who had died. He logged hours searching records for where she was buried and then bought a proper grave stone to mark the place. He did the same for several of his family members who had died and didn’t have proper burial markers. It was his way of honoring them and of being a pastor to his family.
At his funeral one of his granddaughters spoke saying that he was not just her Poppy but her pastor, as well. The meaning of that sinks in deeply when knowing that she never even sat through one of his sermons.
As a pastor he logged hours of knocking on doors in his church’s community. He didn’t care if a person was rude or slammed the door in his face, he’d just come back the next Saturday and bring some fruit or cookies or something in the name of the church. Many were won to the Lord by his consistent, unwavering dedication to their eternal destiny.
More than everything that has already been said, he was the first and only one to become a true hero to me in every one of my definitions of that word.
I miss you, Daddy, and always will.
Teresa Shields Parker is a writer, editor, publisher, journalist and business owner. She is an award-winning writer with over 35 years of journalistic experience. In addition to many other positions, she was editor and publisher of the 100,000 circulation Good News Journal and 50,000 circulation FAMILY Magazine. She and her husband, Roy, have two grown children and have served 11 teens and young adults as foster parents. Their two Birman cats reluctantly allow them to share their home but only because Roy feeds them. Her passion is recognizing and writing about God at work in the lives of people.