We buried my father-in-law last week. He was 87.
The first time I met him was the day I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Kathy had a black and white picture of her parents as young newlyweds on her apartment refrigerator. Then he was a strapping 20-something Navy pilot with a big moustache. It surprised me that the man I shook hands with that day 30 years ago didn’t look the same at age 57.
Carl Dean Lott, Cdr, US Navy (ret.), served this country for nearly three decades. Six months of the year he lived aboard aircraft carriers as an F-4 pilot. The other six he was home working on a base – in Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, California, and to his final appointment at NAS Corpus Christi. Kathy’s mother, Margaret, served as a loyal military wife, relocating wherever and whenever duty called… raising two children alone half the time.
After retiring, Carl spent a decade teaching new pilots to fly in simulators – driving to the base early each morning to prepare the next generation. Surprisingly for a Navy fighter pilot, he drove as slowly as anyone on the road… almost unsafely. When, Kathy’s brother Mike had to take away the keys three years ago, it was not a welcomed action. ‘Old soldiers…’
His military rank meant little to me until the time he took us to the base to see the Blue Angels. When we approached the guard gate in his car, two servicemen saluted Carl and I thought, ‘Maybe he’s important.’ Then another seated us on the first row. Yep, he’s important.
Following a brief funeral service during which the Navy chaplain reminded us to celebrate Carl’s achievements and life well-lived, we walked 50 yards to his final resting place and military honors. A bugler played Taps, two young enlisted folded the flag, then one kneeled next to Margaret’s wheel chair and offered condolences on behalf of the United States Navy.
Afterward, the family gathered for lunch at the hospice care facility where Carl and Margaret lived. Near the entrance was a table with a pair of opened folders. Pictures of the two residents who died last week – both veterans – and personal messages from the staff. Carl’s private care nurse had written: “Goodbye sweet, sweet man. God’s new angel.”