Circa 1947: Don Stacey age 6
In Memory of Dad… October 8th marks Dad’s birthday. He would have been 71.
Dad was born in Gainesville, Texas, the small county seat of Cooke County, just north of Dallas and Fort Worth. It was just a small town back then, but its history is woven deep within the fabric of American History. The main street in Gainesville is California Street. It runs east to west because that is the direction folks were going when heading from the east out to California during the gold rush days. California Street is named for California and its travelers. Gainesville has been a stop along the way, an oasis of sorts, for weary travelers since that trek began circa 1849.
Dad’s family history is, in a way, the history of the United States itself.
One of Dad’s great great grandfathers, Frederick White, was a descendant of a brother of the Whites that traveled on the Mayflower. He traveled to Texas, stopping in a small town in east Texas. He married a girl from the southern United States. Their son married into a family that came to Texas after the war between the states. The family lost their homes and came to Texas to start anew. A small town, Martin, Texas, was name for them. Members of this family worked as preachers, railroad men, laundresses, etc. They worked hard, as they made their way across Texas from Sulphur Springs, Texas to Gainesville, Texas. Some stopped off in Tyler, Commerce, Dallas, etc.
Another great grandfather was born in the steerage compartment on a boat crossing the Atlantic. His parents were escaping the Great Potato Famine in Ireland via England. After landing in New York harbor, he eventually ended up in Texas with a farm and many children. Two of his daughters met and married two brothers from Missouri. The Stacey brothers, there were three, were on their own most of their lives, as they were living with, what we assume, friends of their parents, as early as the end of the Civil War. Their parents are still a mystery, as is most records in Missouri from that time. The area was heavily stained with the blood of both the north and south. The brothers eventually made it to Texas farming, ranching and driving. Unfortunately, Dad’s granddad passed before he was born, but Dad’s oldest brother remembered rides in their granddad’s covered wagon. He drove the wagon until his death in 1929. This side of the family, too, eventually ended up in Gainesville.
Texas was not included in the industrial revolution that hit the east coast. Cars were not all the rage; however, Dad’s great granddad, John William White, the preacher, did have a car. Gainesville, however, had a law on the books, which stands today, that bans cars on California Street. Needless to say, no one adheres to the old law.
circa late 1940s, early 1950s
Dad was born in 1940. He was the youngest of 7 children. Pictures I have seen of Gainesville during the 1940s and 1950s and of Dad during this time remind me of Mayberry and Opie Taylor… that was Dad. I am told he had a sparkle in his eye that told of his deeds… including pulling numerous pranks.
He told us of a guy who came thru town in the 1950s that captured the hearts of all the girls. He and his buddies didn’t see the draw. They laughed. He related this story because, with time, Mom, became “one of those girls” just a country away in Providence, Rhode Island and many years later. The “guy” that came to town in the 1950s? Elvis Presley. Before Elvis was known all over, he traveled around the south… Texas, Louisiana, etc. Dad used to tell Mom that just to tease her.
circa late 1940s, early 1950s
Dad joined the US Navy just out of high school. He rode with his brother to Florida, as his brother had to report to duty. Instead of coming back, he signed up with the Navy. The US Navy sent him to Newport, Rhode Island. On leave, he went to a girl’s club, a local hangout for Navy seamen and local girls. The lady who ran the club had strict rules… no close dancing, no kissing, no married couples, etc. Mom had her brother and cousins convince her parents to let her go. Just out of school, she met this dashing blond from Texas. He wouldn’t tell her his name… just “Tex”. They fell in love.
Dad was soon sent to Cuba during the Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile ordeal. I remember Dad telling us how President Kennedy believed the Soviet Union when they said they didn’t have missiles in Cuba. He would tell us how, when they told President Kennedy they were being fired upon, the president told them they were not; yet, bullets flew overhead. While these bullets were being fired upon them, Dad penned a letter to Mom. He described their desperation in a “war” that wasn’t happening. He asked her, if he should make it out of this situation, would she marry him. Mom read the letter at work. She was laughing and crying at the same time. She was ecstatic he had asked her to marry him but was scared he wouldn’t survive the ordeal.
August 14, 1963
Well, he did. On August 14th, 1963, a holiday in Rhode Island at the time, VJ Day or Victory over Japan day, Dad married his bride, to the protest of her New England family. Mom’s mom once referred to Dad as a dirty, rebel protestant from Texas. Her family said it wouldn’t last. Well, I suppose in a way, it didn’t; God ended it in his own time. Her family only agreed to the marriage if he got out of the military. The armed forces never were a big hit in the state of Rhode Island. He obliged.
Side note: when one of the space capsules came back to earth, his ship was one of the ones sent out to retrieve it; however, it is not the one that actually met up with it.
When times turned tough, and the draft for Viet Nam seemed inevitable, Dad rejoined the Navy. Dad was sent to Viet Nam. With pressure from her family, Mom, who was pregnant with their first child, sent a letter to Dad asking why he had to be in a war that had nothing to do with us. He wrote back; he’d rather go to foreign shores to fight the evils of the world and those that hated Americans and the American way of life then to have to fight them here on American soil. He would rather die at war knowing he did all he could to keep America free and protect the way of life he grew up with for his unborn child. He explained in detail how the communists could start at Viet Nam and hopscotch across the Pacific islands to the United States. She never questioned him again.
When Dad came back from Viet Nam, he asked for a land based naval station. The Navy would not accommodate him; so, he switched to the US Air Force. With the Air Force, he went to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was close to family, as the base is just up the road from Gainesville… OK, it’s a looong up the road, about 2 – 2 ½ hours up the road.
Self taken picture at US Air Force base in Iceland, circa 1970s
He spent 5 years at Beale AFB, California as part of the crew working on the SR-71 Blackbird, also known as Habu. We grew up on the flight line watching that gorgeous Blackbird take off and land. The sound of that plane was extraordinary! Little did we know, we were part of the UFO conspiracy, as many Blackbird pilots would tell stories of flying real close to commercial aircraft and then hit their thrusters. Airport traffic controllers would report blips on their screens only to have them vanish in a matter of seconds. I had no idea until Dad retired and the SR-71 was made public during the 1980s.
I remember the 2 wheeler bike Dad painted red for me… tires and all. It had a US Flag seat he found. I remember when he took the training wheels off. I was sooo scared. He had to hold the bike the whole way because I wouldn’t let him let go.
I remember, when he would go TDY, how I would wait by the phone in the kitchen, a rotary dial, for him to call. I wanted to be the first person to answer his call.
Dad was transferred to RAF Lakenheath, England from Beale AFB to work on the F-111 fighter jets. Dad went before us to locate housing, as their was a waiting list to get base housing. He found a place in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, England. It had a ruined Abbey we used to go to all the time. When he picked us up at the airport, once we got there, he walked us up to the car he used to go back and forth to work... a Mini. Mom looked at him like, how are we gonna fit in that with all our luggage. Well, Dad brought a friend to help with the luggage. Our car, the 1977 Chevrolet Impala station wagon, aka the Yank Tank, was on the proverbial slow boat from China. I don't envy my parents for having to drive that car down any small British street! Dad got interested in brass rubbings, where you have special paper and pencils you use to rub the brass coverings of British tombs of important people. I have no idea why it was popular, but it is something people did/do. We went to see Stonehenge before it was popular. You could still actually walk right up to the stones back then. He took us to Scotland one year while we were there because it was part of our family’s heritage.
After 3 years in England, Dad was transferred to Mtn Home AFB, Idaho. We determined all families coming back to the US from England and Germany must have to come back through Mtn Home AFB, as everyone there had just served in those two countries. Dad retired there at Mtn Home AFB… 20 years combined between the US Navy & the US Airforce.
When he retired, we moved to Converse, Texas… a north eastern suburb of San Antonio. We went there because there were 5 military bases there. It was the military retiree place to be. I graduated high school there. We did a lot while we were there… 6 years of being a tourist. I understand, it too, has changed since we left, becoming even more touristy.
We moved, at the urging of Mom’s mom. I was out of a job, and they refused to leave their only daughter in a town like San Antonio. So, we all moved to Providence, Rhode Island to be with my grandma. While in RI, we took many family vacations. We went whale watching where Dad and I shared our love for photography. We drove with the 3 cats and 1 dog up to Acadia, ME to Quebec City, Canada down to Fort Ticonderoga, NY crossed Lake Champlain to Vermont and down the Mohawk Trail in western MA. We stood under Hurricane Falls and rode the ferry at Niagara Falls only to get back to Rhode Island and a hurricane hitting the state. Through blizzards and humid summers, we survived 9 years in the north!
When Mom decided she could no longer live in Rhode Island, she gathered the family together. We discussed, us all, once again, moving as a family, as adults. We gathered everything together. We rented a Ryder truck and a U-Haul trailer. Had a truck pulling a truck. A van pulling a truck. The van was driven by mom, as I cared for the 3 cats and 1 dog who also traveled from Converse, TX to Providence, RI back to Texas… to the county where Dad’s family started it all… Cooke County.
In June 2005, we got the word from my cousins in Louisiana, my aunt, my Godmother, Dad’s sister, had passed away. We knew it was coming, but it was hard on Dad. It meant he and his oldest brother were the only ones left of 7 children. He was on oxygen due to a breathing ailment believed to be a hereditary problem. He had numerous ailments due to Agent Orange and his time in Viet Nam including complications due to Graves Disease, diabetes and heart problems. He enjoyed the visit with family he hadn’t seen in a long time.
July 1st, 2005, I had planned a trip to east Texas… we were to hit all the towns I could find where his family had lived, including cemeteries. We found them all. It was a good day. He enjoyed seeing where his family came from, where they lived and the town named for them, which really wasn’t much anymore, if anything at all. Don’t blink, as they say. When we returned home, he came inside. He checked his blood glucose level and began to administer his insulin when he suffered a massive heart attack. He died before the paramedics arrived; however, they still continued with life saving steps.
Dad was rushed to the hospital in Gainesville. Doctors told us there was nothing they could do. He was gone. By this time, it was midnight. We had to wait for the justice of the peace to get there to make the declaration. She arrived after midnight; so, his official date of death is actually the day after he died, which is weird when people ask when he died. We are compelled to say July 1st, but officially, it is July 2nd. It really doesn’t matter; he’s still gone.
Ironically, July 1st/July 2nd was the 4th of July weekend. Everything was closed. The funereal director went above and beyond his duty to give Dad what I knew Dad would want. I always promised I would make sure he got a military funeral. Where it all began for him and me… Sheppard AFB answered the call. They sent these young men to honor one of their own. As we stood there, listening to Taps and a 21 gun salute, tears streamed down my face. They collected three of the bullets and gave them to my brothers and me. When they folded the flag that draped his coffin and handed it to Mom, you could have heard a pin drop.
“Til death do you part.”
March 14, 2004
What some said would never last… lasted until God called Dad home. And, in keeping with Dad and his always striving to take care of Mom, he had been trying to get his military disability upped to 100%. Soon after his passing, the letter came… the VA agreed, all of his ailments were the result of his military service. He was granted 100% disability retro back to January 2005. In death, as in life, he continued to take care of his family, protecting them and making sure they were cared for.
So many memories I could never begin to retell for the many, many tears that are streaming down my face.
Dad was my hero. I was his little girl.
Happy Birthday, Dad!
I miss you and love you sooo much!
Love always and forever, Daddy’s little girl!
"Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn was always our song.
The funeral home had some printed material at his funeral with the words to the song.
Since, the song “You Can Let Go Now Daddy” by Crystal Shawanda was released, it, too, makes me cry and think of Daddy.
Dad playing Santa Christmas Eve 1985 at the Randolph AFB Base Exchange where Mom worked. They needed a Santa, as time was short. Mom asked Dad, and he did it for her. Mom made sure we all showed up for our own portrait... too bad it was just a Poloroid. I tried to fix it up a little in Corel Paint Shop Pro. It looks a lot better here than it does in the photo album.
L to R: Mike, Robyn, Dad (Don), Mom (Phyllis) and Bill