Remembering a real hero
BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
In sixth grade, I had to write an essay on my biggest hero. I turned in a two page paper on my father.
I sat down over the weekend to write about my biggest hero for this column. Decades later, it's still my father.
Raymond Kay Jr. was born in 1929 to a poor millworker family in Rhode Island. That’s the year the stock market crashed and brokers were jumping out skyscraper windows. My father’s family was so poor they hardly noticed the hard times and misery that befell the nation.
My father started his first job at 8 years old. He pulled a rusty old Radio Flyer wagon around the hardscrabble streets of Pawtucket, selling newspapers. He made half a penny for every copy sold with every bit going to his family.
To help feed his younger brothers and sisters, my father dropped out of school in eighth grade and went to work at the mill, standing so long each day that he developed varicose at an early age.
In 1947 at the age of 18, he tried to enlist in the Army. He was so skinny that recruiters told him to go home and eat some bananas before trying again. Angry, he walked across the hallway and signed up for the Air Force. He spent years stationed overseas, sending every spare penny to help his parents.
In 1953, he was in attendance at the historical coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The next year, while stationed at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, my father met the woman who would become the queen of his life. Their marriage lasted 52 years, ending with her death in 2006. They had eight children of which I was the youngest.
After tours in Korea, Turkey and elsewhere, my father served a year in Vietnam beginning in 1970. Stationed at DaNang, he often hid under a stack of mattresses during daily mortar attacks. He always said he had one mission during the war: making it home to his wife and kids. He still managed to earn two Bronze Stars.
My father achieved the rank of Chief Master Sergeant, the highest rank an enlisted service member can reach. He retired in 1977 after three decades of decorated military service. Of course, for a man that knew only hard work his entire life, retirement didn’t sit well with him. He went back to work, first as a Montgomery Ward franchise owner then as a manager and district manager for Roses and CVS. He retired for a third and last time to Topsail Island in the mid-90s, sharing a decade of sunrises over the beach with my mother before she died.