Early Sunday morning, my father-in-law passed away at the age of 80. His heart, ravaged from the effects of Agent Orange could not circulate enough blood throughout his body. Eventually, he lost his right leg and part of his left foot. In his weakened condition, he caught a bacterial infection and his kidneys began to shut down. He suffered during his last few days but he fought valiantly against all odds. Then again, that was his nature.
He had served in the U.S. Army for 20 years. He earned two Purple Hearts; one during the Korean conflict and the other during the Vietnam War. After spending some time with the infantry, Robert wanted to join the Airborne. Because of his short stature, his superiors were skeptical he could make it in the Airborne. With grit and determination, Robert not only became a member of the Airborne but he also became a Pathfinder. He was a member of the first team to successfully jump out of a jet plane. In time, Robert wanted to attain the rank of Jump Master. Once again, his superiors were skeptical he could succeed in attaining the rank. With the same grit and determination, Robert became a Jump Master. In fact, if you or someone you knew was ever thrown out of a perfectly good working airplane at Fort Benning during the mid-to-late 1960’s, the odds were pretty good you were tossed out by the shortest man ever to become Jump Master.
Robert was an ordinary man who performed extraordinary feats. He maintained his humility at all times. He never bragged about his exploits nor was he willing to cross swords with fools who desired to belittle his tenure in the Army. Along with his Purple Hearts, he was awarded a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. He also earned good conduct medals (6) and other military citations.
However, his personal life was not as idyllic. His first wife, with whom he had three children, passed away from cancer at the age of 33. Three months before her death, their son Ronnie was killed by a drunk driver at the age of 11. He remarried and remained married for 43 years until she also passed away from cancer. He battled many health issues but that did not stop him from enjoying life. He enjoyed fishing off the pier at Panama City Beach and shooting golf at Tyndall Air Force Base. He also would volunteer his time to the local police department and his church. He was quite the handyman; adept at carpentry, plumbing, and as an electrician.
What was idyllic was the time he spent with his only grandchild, my daughter. He loved to take walks with her through the “ jungle” and swim with her in the pool. The two even shared a helicopter ride. I remember one instance when his wife was concerned that he had not taken his prescribed medication for almost 2 hours. He soon walked into the condo with his granddaughter showing no effect from the lack of medicine. His wife remarked that he looked very good despite he had not taken his medicine. I guess love is always the best medicine.
After the death of the second wife, I was driving him for a round of golf. He remarked that he could be buried in three locations. I knew the answer to the first two locations and asked him what was the third location. He responded: “Arlington”.
Since his passing, my wife and her brother have had a terrible row over where to bury their father. My wife initially agreed with me that he should be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Her brother desired to have him buried at Fort Benning. My wife was willing to compromise with her brother but everything blew up when he learned that only I had authority to sign checks on my father-in-law’s account. He never realized/knew that his father had changed his will and made my wife executrix of his estate. Only the mere fluke of an employee of the Georgia Department of motor vehicles misspelling my wife’s name on her driver’s license kept her from having that authority. It’s funny how these things work out.
In accordance with my father-in-law’s wishes, a small service will be held in Atlanta (likely Monday) and he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. His granddaughter will be the recipient of the flag.
Godspeed Robert P Sherman