My father, Warner Bachman, died recently a week before his 93rd birthday. He was ready to go. He lived a long, good life. A child of the Great Depression, a life-long Democrat, a WWII vet, a long-time employee of the state highway department, and a champion checker player. He also had a passion for researching our ancestors. He did this without the aid of the internet, and researched paper records and had conversations with old folks who knew their ancestors. He would fill out the family tree on pedigree charts and send periodic updates to his children and grandchildren. He had a total of 28 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He left quite a legacy.
At his funeral I rose to speak of an adjective that described him: patriarch. A patriarch is the head of a clan, another word for head honcho or boss. He wasn’t shy about telling people what to do, nor was he shy about sharing his opinions. He liked to say he was : “der cheese!” Indeed.
His father, Guy Bachman, was a good time Charlie who liked to play banjo and saxophone in roadhouses during the Depression. He took off for another woman, and left Dad and three daughters and his wife Lona to fend for themselves. Dad, being now the “man of the house” wanted to drop out of high school and go to work to support the family. His mother wouldn’t let him. Somehow, they scraped by. Dad told of how he cracked walnuts for spending money, and also how he lived trapped rabbits, took them down to the train station and sold them. Apparently, Pennsylvania had a shortage of rabbits then, and they paid boys around Green City Missouri to catch rabbits to be hauled off to that state.
After graduating high school, he joined the Merchant Marines towards the tail end of WWII. He worked on tanker ships carrying jet fuel to the European theater. These ships were a prime target for German U-Boats, and many were sunk. Merchant Marines were not technically a branch of the armed forces, but employees of large shipping companies. However, Merchant Marines had to undergo the same basic training as sailors, and were exposed to as much, if not more danger. Their per capita casualties exceed all the other branches. Initially they did not receive the same GI benefits that the other branches enjoyed, but later Congress awarded them many of the same benefits except no pensions. A bill before Congress would have given them pensions as well but went nowhere. As Dad said: They are just waiting for us to die off.
During the funeral Naval Officers played taps. His coffin was draped with an American flag, which was given to me. He had no pension, but he was buried with military honors. Rest in peace, Dad.
When I reflect on what legacy our generation will leave our children and grandchildren, I know that I will not leave behind a slew of children and grandchildren as my father did. I worry about climate change and nuclear war. I worry about the growing gap of income inequality. I worry about racism and xenophobia. I worry about preserving our democracy. Will we stop worrying and do something about it? What will be our legacy?