By Mark Newbold
I’d like to take you on a journey back in time.
My Dad was born on Dec. 24, 1925, in a little town called Lebam, WA.
Lebam is nestled in beautiful Willapa Valley in Pacific County, not far from Willapa Bay and the Pacific Ocean. It got it’s name after one of the town founder’s relatives whose first name was Mabel – Lebam being Mabel spelled backwards.
Dad, like most youngsters in the 1920s, made his own fun… swimming in the Willapa River and spending time developing life-long friendships with Jerry Kraus & Will Pehl.
Much of Dad’s childhood was during the Great Depression and most of his formative years were without the love & support of a father, since he left when Dad was 9 years old.
To help his mom, Dad cut cascara bark, peddled newspapers to the numerous logging camps with the assistance of his faithful dog Panda, and anything else to help his Mom get by Dad had a winning personality and was well liked by all.
Even while working, Dad excelled at school and in sports and was the Student Body Class President of Willapa Valley High School, two years in a row.
He also played alto saxophone in a local jazz band throughout Southwest Washington. He always loved jazz and his all-time favorite was Johnny Hodges, principal saxophonist in Duke Ellington’s Band. He was well-liked by all who knew him.
The attack on Pearl Harbor happened a few days before my dad turned 16. That attack changed everything for my Dad and his classmates.
After graduating, Dad & Will Pehl signed up for the Marine Corps while Jerry Kraus signed up for the Army. Prior to receiving his call to bootcamp, Dad built Baby Flattops (aircraft carriers) at the Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver, Washington. In early 1944, Dad shipped out for basic training at Camp Pendleton. He was assigned to the 5th Marine Division, one of the Divisions trained for the assault on Iwo Jima in February, 1945.
Dad’s call letters were “Charlie 263” – 26th Regiment, 3rd Battallion. He served as a radio operator with a naval fire advance team during the battle on lwo Jima.
After almost 40 days of fighting, the battle ended. Afterward, he visited the Iwo cemetery looking for his childhood friend and fellow Marine Will Pehl. He didn’t find him. Later he learned that the previous day, Will had visited the cemetery looking for Dad.
Dad always said he was one of the lucky ones that got to come home after the war.
After the war, Dad became the first person in his family to earn a college education. My parents married after graduation and built a successful insurance agency in Olympia, WA.
Dad had various physical/medical challenges during his life. He suffered from diphtheria while working in the naval shipyards and later he was seriously injured while cutting a Christmas tree for our family. He had eight surgeries, a staff infection and lost the use of one of legs. However, he persevered through all of it with inner strength attributed to his faith and his great sense of humor.
But nothing could prepare him nor his family for the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. It was hard for us to see my Dad going from an engaging conversationalist and outgoing personality to a perplexed, disoriented & sometimes combative person.
My Mom was Dad ‘s caregiver, until she developed health complications, which made it impossible for her to continue in that role.
Finding caregivers who understood the disease and could provide good care for Dad was a challenge.
Fortunately, the Alzheimer’s Association was a great source of information. They also provided information about the stages of the disease to help us relate to Dad and prepare for the future.
Even though Dad’s cognitive abilities deteriorated and there were physical challenges at the end, you could still see his sweet spirit.
We played lots of Johnny Hodges and Dad would get a twinkle in his eyes and smile. He could be present in the moment even when his short-term memory had been taken.
I was blessed by having a job that allowed me the freedom and flexibility to take time to attend to my Dad’s needs. He eventually passed due to Alzheimer’s in April 2015.
An ironic part to all of this is that during this same time, Dad’s childhood friends Jerry Kraus & Will Pehl, were on the same journey–both had developed severe Alzheimer’s Disease.
In many ways, Dad’s story is much like those of your loved ones.
We must continue to support the work of the Alzheimer’s Association as they provide services, programs and research funding.
I have hope that through these efforts more families will be helped through the similar struggles my family faced and, one day, receive a cure.
I would imagine that many of you here today has a loved one or knows someone who has a loved one who had or is experiencing Alzheimer’s Disease. Let us resolve here today to do all that we can to eliminate the scourge that is Alzheimer’s so that we don’t have to experience anymore “long goodbyes”.