Carl Eugene Godsey, served 22 years with the United States Army. He retired as a Sergeant First Class. He served in World War II and the Korean War. The army was his order in life because of a tumultuous upbringing. This man had many issues behind him when he entered the Army. A product from a broken marriage. Five other siblings above him, 8 years or more his senior, his oldest, William H. Godsey was 18 years old years old when he was born. My grandmother divorced his father, when he was age four. I can't write this article without giving you the basics of his background, but in essence, he was one of those children being raised by a single mom. His next oldest sibling was his sister Lucille, she was eight years old when he was born. Lucille, herself got into trouble around age 16, was sent away to an "unwed girls" home. Somewhat embarrassed, the family didn't talk much about that until many decades later.
My father, at age 12 or 13 moved from Sacramento to Mendocino with my grandmother. She was a visiting nurse and moved there to care for the wife of Captain Lyons, a local man in that small town. My father graduated from Mendocino Junior High School at age 14. After that, they moved back to Sacramento. Something went array at that time, because I was told (by my mother) that my dad never went back to formal schooling, and that he was educated by the Army.
At that age, my grandmother (a profound bible thumper) met a man in her church. He had two daughters a bit younger that my father. Today, we see these types of melded marriages and don't give it much thought. But in those days, if a teenager became "unruly" and became a handful, it didn't take much for a parent to have them thrown into Preston. That, my friends was the name of what is today called the California Youth Authority.
My mother used to say that my father had a rough childhood. I believe that, because I watched him father my older (and only) brother. He never had patience for my brother, who tested the limits of "authority". My dad never had a role-model to raise a son, but he certainly had a soft heart for me and my sister. My dad signed my brother into the Army at the age of 17, and that was the end of their relationship.
The Army was our bread and butter until my dad retired when I was age 12. Cynical and skeptical about the world in general, the one thing that my dad enjoyed the most, was memorization of the poetry of Robert Service and other sourdough writers. His profound talent to spell anything was one of the things he loved to boast about, being the Yakima County spelling champ in Washington State. His Army record is sketchy, because a lot of what he did in the Army was covert -- according to my Uncle Bill. Dad never talked much about it...but he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands when my mother met him on a furlough in Seattle in the summer of 1943.
Humbled with no real education, my father settled us into private life in Mendocino. He was a janitor at our high school. He passed a civil servant test, and that was where he wanted to raise his family, away from the missile-threatening cold-war life in the Bay Area. He wanted his family in the "safe zone" of nuclear fallout. It also worked out, that he may have had some very lovely experiences in Mendocino as a boy, so that's where we settled. Safe, but not too far away.
The one thing that my Dad was, was being a phenomenal swimmer. The Army gave him exceptional leeway when it came to competing in long distance swimming competitions at the military level. This skill was one reason why he was selected for covert operations, during World War II and the Korean War. He would mention it couple of times about swimming onto an island and getting behind enemy lines. One time, he went into a detailed story about it, as I watched. I could see that this man had really done something violent about sticking a knife in someone...but he stopped short of the rest of the details, collecting his wits when he realized he was talking to his young daughter.
My mother also indicated to us delicately one time, about my Dad's experience in Preston. How he had been gang-raped and stayed in the boys home for several years. Getting out of the "boys home", he struggled with a life, and months later, after his 19th birthday went into the Army.
Living during the 60's was one of the most difficult things for him to watch. A true-blue service man, seeing the dissent of young people in Berkeley, and also seeing so many of the young men in our town go to war in Vietnam really impacted him. You could see that his loyalty to the US Government was a tug on his heart, especially since the war in Vietnam wasn't one of that was instigated by a tragic provocation like Pearl Harbor. He would say a couple of times, "why?", but he also didn't say much about the dissent, until a neighbor spoke out against the Vietnam war, and then he called her and her husband "communists".
So life was a struggle for this man. A broken child, confused on religion, cynical of life in general, but I must say, that my father raised us with the best of intentions. He was funny, had a language that was a bit crusty, however, the worst language he ever used around us was "crap, son-of-bitch, damn, dammit, God-dammit, and fudge". He loved telling me "off-color jokes" so I would tell his visiting men friends to see them blush. My mother was the love of his life. She gave him stability and understanding for his sad childhood. They loved each other dearly. Sure they would argue, but I can still see them hugging in the kitchen, and him patting her on the fanny. This crusty serviceman found his life with a wonderful woman, and a loving family. He couldn't have done any better, right dad?
So I salute you, Dad, from the memories I have of mom ironing your fatigues to starched perfection. The color matched your eyes. The memories of seeing you march on the Presidio grounds, in your impeccable uniform with the brass buttons, making sure the G.I.'s marched in line-by-line perfection. The respect that most men gave you when they would visit us. And most of all, the experiences I have from your influence on what it is to be a U.S. Citizen, and the loyalty you gave America. The memories of swimming in the Army pools in Fort Ord, and Presidio. The over-seas tours of duty to Europe and experience of living an Army life in France. I salute you, for your 22 years with the military. No one can change my image of you, no one.