Patrick Henry O’Neal (1911-2012) was my grandfather. This photograph was taken by a young man driving past the farm, who was fascinated to see someone plowing their garden with a mule. He stopped to take the photo, then used it to paint a portrait of Papa Pat, which he later have to him and Granny Bug. It hung proudly in their living room on the farm, and their final home after they sold the farm in 1987. He was one of my hero’s. Being the eldest grandchild on both sides of the family, I spent a lot of time perched on his lap as a small child, and transporting him to family events in his waning years.
Papa lived a full life that wasn’t easy or entitled by any stretch of the imagination. The middle child of three, his father left them when he was nine or ten. His mother abandoned them when he was twelve or thirteen, forcing him to live with relatives for a time, and ultimately ending up with the Martin’s as a farm hand. Mrs Martin took him in allowing him to stay in the back of their rural general store at night, while he plowed the fields of the farm by day on the business end of a mule team. He never shied away from work or responsibility as he was forced to quit school after his father left, and find work in the oil fields of northern Louisiana. He learned about life from the roughnecks surrounding him as he built outhouses, delivered newspapers, and did whatever tasks they would pay him for. Imagine your ten year old saddling up a horse, and going to work every day.
His younger brother Bill convinced him to tag along to the Navy recruiting office in Little Rock. These teenaged brothers hitchhiked their way up to visit the recruiter about enlisting. Papa joined the U.S. Navy in 1929, where he stayed until his retirement in 1958.
Not only was he my hero, but one of the nations as well. The recognition for his bravery and accomplishments proudly hangs in my office as a constant reminder of who this man was to me. I listened to the stories about his time spent serving his country, and never once did I tire from what he had to say. He taught me the meaning of honor and respect, and I’m blessed to have been born into his life.
His life continues to have meaning because of the legacy he left with his beloved grandchildren, and great grandchildren. My children were blessed to know all of my grandparents, even though they didn’t get to know their own. They too take great pride in the heritage that comes from the connection to this “Greatest Generation” and I believe it inspires them to fulfill their dreams, just as Papa Pat inspired me to reach for mine…
#family #life #love #honor