30 Days of Gratitude Challenge: Day 11 (veterans)

30 Days of Gratitude Challenge: Day 11

Thank God for veterans today, who have given so much to serve our country. Pray an Our Father in thanksgiving for all the sacrifices they made for our freedom.

Amen!

And fun *BONUS* Content — This past Sunday I had an article published in the special Veterans Day section of my local newspaper. Here is that story:

A small slice of the American Dream, with a side of potatoes

Born in 1929, Richard Fundy grew up living what he knew as the average American childhood; living in several different houses around Pittsburgh until eventually landing in the back apartment of a house in Lawrenceville shared with his mother, two aunts, and two uncles. Born amidst the Great Depression, his father brought him home from the hospital, packed his bags, and left. Rich didn’t see his father again until he was eight years old. 

Rich never had a proper bed of his own. He slept in a bushel basket, a dresser drawer, or shared a bed with one of his uncles. But when he was 14 years old his aunts and uncles moved out, his father returned to live with them, and for the first time he had his own bed. 

Affectionately called “Little Rascal” by his mother, Rich was always up to something. He once accidentally crashed his wagon into the coal furnace and cracked his head off the pipe which caused the pipe to dislodge and fill the house with smoke. His uncle quickly fixed the pipe, but not before the smoke killed his mother’s two canaries. When he was nine his father bought him a pair of ice skates, took him to Duquesne Gardens in Oakland to learn how to skate, and within a week he attended try-outs to be the Pittsburgh Hornets’ mascot. Because he was one of the best skaters, Rich was selected. He served as the hockey team’s mascot for two seasons between  1938-1939. 

Even though he liked being mischievous he could also be studious. Rich graduated from Washington Vocational High School as an auto mechanic. For a year after high school he worked as a mail carrier as well as in the mail department of the Rosenbaum Company Department Store. He also spent that time trying to understand why Dolores, his childhood friend and prom date, stopped speaking to him. 

In 1948, at age 19, he joined the service because “I read a book about diesel submarines and I wanted to get into diesels, so I enlisted in the Navy.” He was stationed in New London, Connecticut where he carried guard mail for two weeks until he was assigned to “sub school”. After two weeks at submarine school he asked his commanding officer if he could just work on diesel engines. He was told no. He was told, “You’re a submariner. You learn everything.” Rich was a mechanic trapped with a desire to learn about “diesels”, but forced to learn about different color-coded wiring in old submarines. He asked his commanding officer if he could quit. He was told yes. With his twelve-week program reduced to two, Rich headed back to base and was assigned a job in the galley peeling potatoes. 

His stint peeling potatoes ended when he was reassigned to the Communications Department to carry guard mail again. Due to his uncanny ability to strike up friendships, have long conversations, and earn trust, he soon found himself the go-to man anytime anyone wanted anything carried across base or picked up from town. With just a wave at the guards Rich could drive his Jeep on and off the base. When a piece of mail would appear in his mail bag for “Rich Fundy” he’d happily complete his next “assignment” – delivering everything from packages and clothes to loaves of bread and alcohol. 

When on leave Rich would head home to Pittsburgh. He’d visit Murphy’s 5-and-10 to watch Dolores work. He’d talk to the other girls who worked there, but never had the courage to talk to Dolores. After a few trips home he was still on the outs with her, so he decided he was going to buy property in New London and move there. He mentioned this to the other girls, the girls quickly told Dolores, and the next thing Rich knew he heard Dolores call his name. All it took was Dolores saying “Rich” for him to change his plans. He went over to her counter and instead of telling her he was leaving he asked her if she’d meet him after work. “She agreed,” Rich said. “I met her at the streetcar stop and we never parted after that.”  

When you join the Navy you are supposed to head from basic training to base and into a focused job. You may not get your preferred job, but you will be assigned a speciality then receive additional training in that area. Because Rich preferred to focus on mechanics and diesels he couldn’t find a role that matched. For two years his focus area seemed to alternate between peeling potatoes and carrying guard mail. One day his commanding officer told him he had to pick something to learn or he would again be peeling potatoes. Rich knew he couldn’t get away with choosing the potatoes for a fifth time.

“My uncles always said, ‘If you can learn, learn,’ Rich said. “So I went to Norfolk, Virginia and learned teletype and radio signal.” He had never touched a typewriter before, but within three months he was typing eighty words per minute on his Underwood typewriter. He graduated from “teletype school” with only five other servicemen, received orders to pick up a cruiser in Norfolk, and became his ship’s sole teletype man. 

He found himself in the radio room of the USS Macon listening for anything pertinent but primarily taking in sports scores and world news. Most nights, instead of heading up the two flights to his bunk, he’d just pull a few chairs together and sleep next to the radio. 

Eventually he realized, “I wasn’t doing nothin’ but listening to the radio. And I figured ‘I’m gonna make a paper.’ And I did. I made a five-page paper with sports and all the news going on.” He made copies of it on a mimeograph, delivered it to the ship’s mailroom for them to staple, and waited for them to distribute it to the lunch galley and the officer’s galley. One day his commanding officer asked him if he knew who was publishing the paper. Since he knew he could get into trouble since it wasn’t a part of his official duties he simply said: “I know the guy.” He was relieved when he was told to relay the message that the paper was liked and to keep it up.  

Rich’s Navy service spanned from 1948 until 1951, comparatively quiet years between the end of WWII and the middle of the Korean War. As Rich’s service was nearing an end, world tensions were increasing. With less than two months to serve Rich found himself onboard a ship that was preparing the crew for active duty, training in battle maneuvers, and being loaded with ammunition. The ship was to head to the waters off of southeast Asia, but before it left port Rich was reassigned to a hospital on shore. He finished up his Navy career as a Petty Officer Third Class cleaning, sorting, and folding laundry in the hospital’s laundry room. 

The night before his last day in the service Rich called home to tell his father he was coming home. The next day Rich was honorably discharged and headed home to Pittsburgh. When he arrived he learned that his father had found him a job working at Fort Pitt Brewing Company and Iron City Brewing. For the next thirty years Rich worked at the breweries and did almost every job – filling cases, checking trucks, driving a high lift, “everything except putting caustic soda into the tanks where they washed the bottles out”. 

Rich and Dolores married in 1951 and raised two daughters together. When Dolores passed away in 2016 they had been married for 65 years. Rich still lives in the same Shaler house that he bought for his family in 1961. He now spends his days sitting in his wife’s old chair next to his beloved yellow labrador named Lady. In other words, he’s lived a life known as the quintessential American Dream. 

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