The Greatest Man I Ever Knew

A few days ago Touchstone noted that “we lose nearly a thousand WW2 veterans every day.” Three weeks ago marked the passing of one of those WW2 veterans and one of the greatest men I have ever had the honor of knowing. And while he was neither a great political figure nor even a famous man, I hope you will forgive me this one time to share some of my thoughts about him on this web site.

I am writing about my father, Ralph Lavell Austin, who died, November 14, 2009 in Ogden, Utah. My father served in the US Navy towards the end of WWII as a flight engineer on a PBM search and rescue seaplane. (He liked to tell me that the Japanese were afraid of the PBMs because they knew that something that big and slow couldn’t be an airplane.) He was preceded in death by his wife Shirley and survived by five children and many grandchildren. To my mind, my father was one of the greatest men who ever lived. I realize that I am somewhat prejudiced here, but the effect this man had on my life certainly warrants that status for me. I would hope that most sons think the same of their fathers.

My father taught me the meaning of honor, the virtue of honesty, the difference between right and wrong, the need to be kind and respectful of others, the rewards of loyalty, the value of love, and the importance of a good laugh. He shared with me the common sense to know that evil exists in this world, it can’t be ignored, trivialized, nor wished away, and that if good is to survive then good must be supported and evil opposed, if only by recognizing it and doing what is right. He taught me in word and deed, each and every day that I was privileged to share with him, I’m certainly not perfect in these things, though I certainly though my dad was.

My father loved his family, his friends, his church, and country. He loved art and music, fun and laughter. He loved helping people, talking to them, and making them feel good. He loved life and all the good things in it. I think this is how he handled the difficulties and pain he had to suffer through in the last few years. The fact that he loved life and the people around him so much that it was still worth all the effort that might go into it. And still with all the pain he was always happy to talk to me on the phone. And even in the last few months, as his hearing got to be so bad that it was nearly impossible to talk on the phone, he was still able to laugh at himself. In my father I saw a man who would rather die fighting to live well than live waiting to die, because each day was one more day he could share with the people he loved.

Rich and famous people leave their mark on the world, often for the worse. My father was neither rich nor famous, but he left his mark on the world for the better, he left it on me as well. He left it on those he loved and those who loved him. My world is a better one because of him, but a smaller one without him. All that I am, all that I have achieved, and all that I will come to be, I owe to him. So, I am very grateful that God chose to bless me with a father who was truly the greatest man I know.

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