It was a week ago yesterday my uncle passed away. Got a text from my cuz about 2am that he’d died an hour earlier. He was 83 years old.
His Christian name was Kenneth but as far back as anyone can remember he went by Doc, a nickname he picked up as a kid, although I’m not sure how or why. Doesn’t matter. He was Doc Powell. To call him Kenneth would have seemed strange, even to his family, maybe especially to his family.
He was a WWII vet, a paratrooper who was supposed to be part of the D-Day invasion on Normandy but on his last qualifying jump he landed in some shale and cut up his ankles and so spent D-Day in a hospital bed. Later, he was to be part of the Japan invasion campaign. This time he was fit and on ship waiting to be deployed. Several times he, and the other soldiers, were told to prepare to invade, and each time it was put off. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must have been to psyche yourself up to jump into battle only to be told to forget it. Of course, in the end there was no invasion of Japan. Truman dropped the bomb, and then another. And that was that. He never said so, but according to my cuz, Doc’s son, Truman was a hero to the man. Doc was stationed in Japan for a time; thereafter he could not tolerated the sight of rice, nevermind eating it.
There was no flag ceremony but there was a folded flag in his coffin, which later given to the family.
Doc had also been a cop. For 28 years. That’s how I remember him, in his dark blue uniform with a shiny black brimmed hat. Walkie talkie and gun on his black leather belt. As a kid I was eaqually awed and intimidated by him. He was a quiet man, kind of like a cowboy, at least to me. When I saw the “Wyatt Earp” movie and “Tombstone” and when I read the Loren Estleman novel, “Bloody Season,” about Earp and the famous shoot out, I was reminded of my Uncle Doc, a deliberate man. All his years on the force he never drew his gun but once, or at least that’s what I recall being told. He was a new cop then, on a walking beat in downtown Clarksburg. There was store burglarly or hold up or something of the sort, and Doc chased one of the guys down an alley. It was dark and the guy shot at him. Doc, to mislead the shooter, kneeled down on on knee and held his flashlight up above his head, which caused the gunman to shoot over Doc’s head. Doc drew his weapon but never needed to fire it. The gunman turned his gun on himself to evade capture. If I remember the story correctly, this happend the night before Easter Sunday. My aunt didn’t learn of it until church the next day because Doc never told her about it. Of course, she was upset, wanted to know why her husband hadn’t told her he’d been shot at. Doc’s response was to wonder why he would tell her, he was just doing his job.
For the duration of his funeral, a cop was on guard by my uncle’s casket. They did a changing of the guard about ever fifteen mintues. There was also a police escort from the funeral home to the church, where an office stood guard outside during mass. It rained. The police escort continued on after church to the cemetary, where the cop car blocked traffic. After that I’m not sure what the cop did. I was a pallbearer and was focused on helping to carry the casket from the hearse to the grave-side. It was raining still, the ground was wet and muddy. I was afraid I might trip or lose my grip, but neither happened.
It was a sad day of course but also something of a relief. Doc had been suffering. He had emphysema from smoking cigarettes most of his life; he got started in the military, I think, they handed them out for free. At the end he had to really work and concentrate to take a breath. At one point, he told my aunt that he simply couldn’t do it anymore. He was told he didn’t have to.
Some people loom large in your life, like character in a novel or a movie. My Uncle Doc was such a person, for me anyway. He was a tacirturn man with a cowboy-like squint, as if scanning the West Virginia hills for signs of trouble. He struck as man of long thoughts, ones he mostly kept to himself. But he wasn’t all seriousness. Once, as our family was driving out of Clarksburg, heading back to Detroit, Doc, on duty, pulled us over just to say goodbye. He could be incredibly generous too. Once he gave me ten buck, just because he “never met a boy that couldn’t use ten dollars,” which I suppose is tru enough, but then a moment later he gave me twenty bucks, and then more and then more still, until he’d dished out almost a hundred dollars to me. I think he’d been out drinking with some of his buddies. Of course, I didn’t keep the money. Well, not all of it anyway. I was obliged to accept some of it.Doc wouldn’t tolerate otherwise.
Yep. My Uncle Doc was certainly and interesting man. He was a good man too, leading a life that served his country, his community and his family. And he will be missed. And certainly not soon forgotten. Not by me anyway. In fact, I’ve been toying with the idea of a story based on him and his life. Largely biographical but fictionalized here and there for effect. I would like to do that for him, and for his family.