My dad, William Charles Pumphrey aka “Bill” was born August 27, 1922. He lived until he was 77. Many of us who knew and loved him wondered if he had not smoked for 58 years, how long he might have lived. Oh well, his words to me on the 50th anniversary of D-Day: “Mark, I have had a great life. The heros in WWII were the ones who did not get to come back. I came back to Colorado, met your mom, had four great kids, eight grandkids, loved my business, got to travel a lot and enjoyed my life”. Bill, was a glider pilot in The War. He was an instructor at the glider base in Alliance, Nebraska. During the first 24 hours of the Normandy invasion 25% of the glider pilots were killed. My dad knew many of them.
“The next day after D-day they shut the base down and sent the rest of us to England. Six weeks later I was in Holland.” I later found out that he had one combat mission and when they landed the territory was already secured. “What did you do then”? I asked. “Well, they made me a co- pilot on C-47 transport planes. We flew supplies up to the front line.”
“Like what”? I naïvely asked. “Oh, gasoline, ammo, food, water, fresh troupes. Then we often brought the wounded back”. “Did you ever get shot at”? … stupid me. “Oh yes, every day. The hard part was in the briefing room where there would be empty desks from the day before. We knew what that meant”.
My sister Rita called my dad, “The bravest man I ever knew”. I am not sure that I knew any braver myself. He never drew attention to himself, unless of course he was wearing wild Bermuda shorts, with some crazy 1960’s print shirt. When he discovered “Jump Suits” he thought he had died and gone to fashion heaven. He seriously wore a camouflage jump suit to church once in Alamosa because we were headed fishing right after the services.
My dad loved to fish. When I was four he took me on “opening day” which used to be Memorial Day weekend. This is TRUE— I caught five brook trout on my own and I have the 8mm movie to prove it. As all of his grandkids can attest, that he was way happier if we caught more fish than if he did. His fishing moved from fly fishing, to bank fishing, to fishing off a boat. Up until the year he died he spent hours at Lake Pueblo with any grandkid he could round up, or by himself. My mom said, sometime after his death, “I would love to know what he thought about all those hours”.
He was be best read man I have ever known and he integrated that into a world view that was ever expanding. I never once ever, heard him say a judgmental thing about anyone. He almost always got the Final Jeopardy answer right no matter what the category. He was the one that said to me in the 1990’s “The marriage between the Republican Party and Right wing religion is a marriage made in HELL. It will will be the undoing of both of them”. We are watching it happen before our eyes. He was both a Republican and a Christian and the idea of Christian Nationalism was what he faced with the millions of other young soldiers, in the Nazis.
Well, enough of the serious stuff. I was blessed with a father who was— quirky, OCD, loving, funny, brilliant, kind, generous, and if my sister Rita was right, the bravest man she had ever known. She should know because he wore ‘night gowns’ and once he came down the street to bring her home way past her curfew, yes, wearing his night gown.
Happy Birthday “Wild Bill P.” Onward and Upward,