Twenty-eight years ago, I asked Charles Melvin Gosney, known simply as “Mel” to his friends, if I could marry his daughter. He said yes. So did she.
Last week, Mel passed away at the age of 94 surrounded by his family after a short battle with cancer. Mel’s wife, Gen, passed away 22 years ago.
I traveled to Washington State to attend the graveside memorial service for Mel. My wife, Jenine, had already rushed to Washington to be with her dad and other family members for the last few days of her father’s life.
Mel was a good man. I know that, not only because I knew him, but also because I know one of the daughters he raised. She has been a wonderful wife for 28 years and an excellent mother to our children. She speaks very highly of her father. He set high expectations for me to live up to.
A child of the Great Depression, Mel was not cheap, but thrifty and frugal. He was also generous and kind. He did not spend money needlessly.
His oldest son, Terry, recounted during the graveside service one of his earliest memories of working with his dad. His dad handed him a pile of bent nails. It was Terry’s job to straighten them out so they could be reused. And they did reuse them. If they bent again, they were straightened out again and used unless they broke, he said.
Mel was handy with his hands and could fix just about anything, according to Jenine.
“Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do or do without,” was his motto.
Mel lived in the same house for nearly 60 years while raising six children. When they needed more bedrooms, Mel just built more rooms by himself. When his wife wanted a larger kitchen, he made it bigger, even if it meant relocating the patio he had put in just the year before.
Mel worked for a little over 28 years as an engineer for the Washington State Department of Highways. After retiring as the state’s administrative construction engineer, Mel and Gen moved to American Samoa, where he worked for three years heading a construction firm that built roads and other infrastructure for island territory.
Mel spent his last 16 months living in an apartment attached to my sister-in-law’s house on a small alpaca ranch near Rochester, Washington.
The first time I visited him there, he reveled about his view out one window of the morning fog rising off the Black River and the green trees of the Black Hills. Out the other window he could watch the alpacas.
When it came time for Mel to leave this life, I imagine that, unseen by human eyes, Gen entered the room, put her hand on his hand and gently said, “Mel, it’s time to go. There’s people waiting to see you.”
Earlier in his life, Mel was a B-29 bomber pilot during World War II. He flew 35 missions over the Pacific Ocean and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
When Mel’s children mentioned his military service to the funeral director while making plans for the memorial service, the director offered to arrange for a military honor guard.
We arrived at the graveside about half an hour before the service began.
It was a cold and wet morning, with a breeze that made it seem even colder — but not unusual for a February morning in Washington State.
The two honor guards were already there and on duty, one on each end of the casket, facing each other. A new flag was draped over the casket.
The two men stood at attention, stoically. They looked very young, like maybe 19. Their uniforms bore a patch that read, “Base Honor Unit.”
Despite the cold air, they did not shiver, but remained steadfast and reverent. I do not know how long they had been there before we arrived.
Once the service started, on cue from the funeral director, they lifted the flag off the coffin and began to fold it.
There was complete silence as they carefully folded the flag, meticulously creasing each fold and then presented the flag to my sister-in-law. One of the color guards retreated to behind the crowd gathered for the service and played taps. The other guard quietly marched off and disappeared.
My eyes were wet. I couldn’t look at Jenine. I knew it would only make us both cry even more.
Terry spoke a few short words, memories about his father, and then he dedicated the grave.
The service was over.
The honor guard presentation was deeply poignant. It was a fitting tribute of respect to the man that Mel was. It also felt like a symbolic passing of the torch. As these two young men laid a veteran to rest, it was like they were taking up his commitment to serve our country.
Mel was part of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.”
Mel and others like him who have already been laid to rest, responded to the call to serve and shaped this country — if not the world — as we emerged from the Great Depression, through a second world war, and on into our modern world.
At times like this, I think of the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg when he said (paraphrased) that it was for us, the living, to take from the honored dead, an increased measure of devotion to their cause.
Regardless of age or political party, it is time for a new generation to rise up to the challenge of leading our nation through tumultuous times to secure the blessings of liberty for our families.