When my adoptive father passed away in 2009, he went quietly at my sister's house. We waited for two weeks for him to go find our mother. We assured him that we'd be fine, but he held tight until midday on July 17th. I came home briefly to catch a nap and change clothes. My sister called to tell me to come back quickly, but, in the thirty minutes it took to return, Daddy decided it was time. I ran into her house and to our father's side. As I held his hand, "Moon River" began to play. This was a special song as a little girl learned to dance by placing her feet on her father's and awkwardly mimicked his moves. I hugged him tight and sang along one last time.
It was then our job to deal with the business side of death. Open house arrangements. Cremation arrangements. The obituary. You have to understand - Daddy never thought himself worthy of much. He was an everyday man who worked hard and took care of his family. He enjoyed playing golf and he even wrote poetry. Little bits of rhyme that were only shared within the family.
Below is what we came up with to describe our father's life. We supplied the same to the Chaplain for his service at Arlington National Cemetery. As an aside, the Chaplain wasn't able to keep a straight face at our father's poetry. Daddy would have liked that.
William K. "Ken" Elam died at home July 17, 2009. He & his wife, Ardith, lived at the Cloister at St. Henry in Nashville, TN for over twenty years. After her death in Feb 2008, he moved to the home of his daughter, Carol.
He was born Oct. 9, 1921 in Lerna, IL, the son of William Birdle and Orpha (Perkins) Elam. He grew up in Vienna, IL, and was a "Tom Sawyer" kid in Vienna and the surrounding area. Usually barefoot or in hand me down shoes, he roamed the countryside without anyone knowing where he was most of the time. As he grew up during "Hard Times", he had several odd jobs, even handing out pamphlets for the local silent movies where his aunt played the piano. He learned to drive at an early age, and was apparently considered responsible, because as people in town bought cars they would hire him to drive them places, even though under age.
In 1941, at the age of 19, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri to work in the Curtiss Wright airplane factory.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943 at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. He attended training courses in bomber mechanics and other courses at several bases around the country. He then went to Sikeston, Missouri to Flight School. Here, he also learned to do aerial acrobatics which he loved. One day he was flying solo and he sneaked down to Calvert City, KY and buzzed his parents' house. He found out later they were out of town but all the neighbors figured out it was him and told them.
He continued training courses in B-17 and other aircraft engines. While stationed in Amarillo, TX he met "the prettiest girl in Iowa" at a USO. Ardith Howland worked as a radio operator for TWA and was stationed there also. Finally, he was sent to Guam for a year to work on C-54 engines. On Guam, he worked shifts and the accommodations were not great. One of his best friends from childhood was in the Navy and was stationed about a mile away. He would go visit there and couldn't get over how those guys had ice buckets under their bunks stocked with cold beer while the Army base offered only hot Cokes! He was discharged on March 2, 1946 with the rank of Sergeant of the 1537th Army Air Force Base Unit.
On March 20, 1946, he married that pretty girl in Guthrie Center, Iowa.
In 1949, he enlisted in the Army, to make it his career, not dreaming there would be another war. He spent two years as a student and instructor in various motor and tank mechanics schools and was based in Atlanta.
In 1952, he served in the Motor Pool at the Headquarters of the 40th Infantry Division, California National Guard. While in Korea, he built a camouflaged bunker house into the side of a hill. It was dry and warm despite the weather being -20 degrees outside. He and his roommate, Lt. J. D. Allen, were supposed to keep it secret, but word got out. Before long, his unit was transferred. His commanding officer asked him how they came out in the move. "We were screwed, Sir!" was the answer. He was discharged March 1953 with the rank of Master Sergeant and having seventy men at his command. He received the Korean Service Medal with two bronze service stars as well as the United Nations Service Medal.
After Korea, they moved to Calvert City, KY where he worked at Pennsalt Chemical (Arkema) until retirement.
In 1984, they moved to Nashville to be near their daughters.
His great joys were golf, camping, and doing odd jobs for everyone he knew!
He is survived by his sister, Doris Faye, of Clifton, TX; daughters, Carol Elam and Jennifer Bawden (Darin) of Nashville; grandchildren, Ashley and Nick Marchetti.
Memorial donations are welcome to "The First Tee", a character-building golf program for young people.
Daddy's Constant Car Lament by William K. Elam (Read by the Chaplain as his funeral)
Please check the fluids in your car.
Without them you won't get so far.
You pay a fortune for your bus
If you burn it up you're going to cuss.
Do not fail your oil to change.
This doesn't take a lot of brains.
© 2009 William Kenneth Elam
Mirror by William K. Elam (Read by the Chaplain as his funeral)
The other day, I happened by chance
As I passed a mirror, to give it a glance.
And I wondered who that old man could be.
Who, with his mouth wide open was looking at me.
His bald head was sprinkled with a little gray fuzz.
And he wasn't at all handsome (like I always was)
He looked like a sack of mis-matched parts
Put together without aid of instructions or charts.
And, while I know that my shoulders don't slump.
This person's were misshapen in one ugly hump.
Now if that was me, I only can say.
They don't make mirrors like they did in my day.
© 2009 William Kenneth Elam