Published on June 16, 2020

We lived with him; he was a great dad, but we didn’t know him

By Janice Edwards / The Bulletin

I have been thinking a lot about Dad, John L. Walters, because Father's Day is near.

I wonder how all my family could have lived with him as long as we did and not really know him? We never had a lot of money, but Dad - with Mom’s help - always made sure we had what we needed.

I never knew my grandfather, but he was a route salesman for restaurant supplies. He was known for having a pair of matched white horses. One of his best sellers was butcher blocks – but they were hard to come by. So, he made a deal with my dad that if he could make them, Grand Dad could sell them.

So began Dad’s life’s work - woodworking. This was all before Mom came into the picture.

Dad had just bought a place outside the city limits of Houston (inside Loop 610 today) to build his house and woodworking shop when WWII swept him off to the Pacific front. He was older than most draftees and more mature.

When he came home from the war, he met Mom at a USO dance. He and his friends had a bet on how old she was. It turned out that they were perfect for each other, although there were a few glitches - he was Catholic; she was Methodist. But they were soon married and started a family.

They were older than most couples. Mom was in her 30s. The butcher blocks, lamps and cutting boards he made ( later with Mom’s help), made a living for all of us.

There were four kids. We did all the family things - weekend day trips into the country in the Spring, sitting in fields of bluebonnets; Hemisfair; trips to Surfside in the summer. I loved it when we went to Dickinson and bought shrimp and oysters right off the boat. He let us adopt our first dog, Beau. We’d drive to Hempstead for Black Diamond watermelons, cantaloupes and bushels of black-eyed peas that we kids would start shelling on the way home.

My favorite thing to do with Dad was watch the old westerns on that old black-and-white Zenith. Everyone knew not to bother Dad when “The Untouchables” (starring Robert Stack as Elliott Ness leading federal agents fighting the mob) came on. I guess we had about as normal of a childhood as most kids growing up in the ‘50s.

But Dad never disciplined us – not even once. I never knew why until he died. He never talked about the war.
After Dad died, we went through the things he brought back from WWII, which had always been off-limits to us when he was alive.

We found his old uniform, his survival kit, a bracelet he had made from silver coins, a Japanese officer’s sword, what we thought was a Japanese diary, pictures, his discharge papers and his medals.

My quiet Dad had been one of the people who helped General McArthur win the war in the Pacific.

Dad had taught hand-to-hand combat on an American military vessel going overseas. He became the gunner on a 50-caliber machine gun and had won three bronze spear points and was owed a fourth one he never received.

That means he was in the lead troops for four landings. His machine-gun crew won the Pacific Championship for marksmanship held in Hawaii. We found pictures of his camps in the islands and Dad in a grass hula skirt, playing around.
But then there was this picture of a dead Japanese soldier coming out of a fox hole. I wish I could unsee that. Being the gunner on a 50-caliber machine gun, he was the guy the enemy wanted to kill, especially on the landings. And Dad made at least four of them, including Luzon. There is no telling how much horror he saw. He never wanted any of us to see that, so he had never talked about the war.

He was a quiet, unsung hero, and I salute him.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)