Saturday, July 13, 2013

Remembering General Robert Francis Brainard, my Father-in-Law

Today, I'm remembering that it's Bastille Day and also the birthday of my father-in-law, Robert Francis Brainard. He was born on July 14,1922 and he died October 23, 2005. To many people, he was known (with a great deal of respect and some fear) as General Brainard. Here, I quote from his obituary his military achievements:

"He proudly served his country for 40 years. An enlisted man in the Navy during World War II, he served as a beach master leader, setting up signal positions on South Pacific Beaches the night before invasions. He was awarded a Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge. After the War he joined the Oregon National Guard and quickly received a direct commission as an officer. He was soon a Company Commander. He transferred to the California National Guard in 1959 and assumed various commands. He ran the Officer Candidate School. He was a commander of troops activated to police the Watts Riots in Los Angeles in 1965. In 1968 he led the only National Guard Unit mobilized to fight in Vietnam, where he served with distinction. He was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Vietnamese Medal of Honor in 1977, now a Brigadier General he commanded one of two armies in the largest United States military joint training exercises ever conducted, to prepare for desert warfare in the Middle East."

I called him "Dad" as his own children called him.

When I first met him in 1968 he was serving in the Vietnam War and he and his sons used to have spirited discussions about that War. I remember him saying how difficult it was to fight that War with one hand tied behind their backs; he was referring to the half-way measures, the compromises that the military had to contend with because of America's own ambivalence about that War. Eventually, I heard him say the US shouldn't have been in Vietnam.

I used to listen with fascination at his discussions of other Wars including the Persian Gulf War, wherein he described with precision the Indirect Strategy that would take place and assured us it would be over quickly. When the Gulf War did end as Dad predicted, we learned that he had trained
General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. in Desert Warfare.

Dad was tall, good looking, and handsomely bald (like the TV character Kojac).  He said he shaved his head when he started to lose his hair at a fairly young age. He acted like the quintessential military man, always in command. He and his wife, Josephine, would be somewhere having a good time when, sounding like a commander, he would announce, "Let's go, Josephine."

His second wife, Josephine Hoard, belonged to a very dramatic family with lots of stories.  When Dad used to visit and my husband was still at work, he and I would sit in the kitchen and talk.  He would update me on the goings-on of his family. We dubbed these stories "As the Hoard Turns" referring to a popular soap opera of the time, "As the World Turns."  Since he and my husband would spend their time watching and discussing sports games, I knew more family gossip than my husband did.

 I used to think that Dad saw Asia in me. I knew he was fond of the Philippines where he served during World War II, and that he loved Vietnam where he also served. He was always kind and good to me.

Perhaps because of his military training, he appeared tough and above everyone else, and I heard he had been a strict man in his family. He expected much from his children and people around him. There was a template of sorts that he followed in his mind, but I watched him get rid of this template and learn how to deal with gay grandchildren and mixed gender and racial relationships in his family.

One of my regrets in life is that I was unable to see him for the last time in Arizona as he was losing his battle to cancer. I hope he knew that I loved him. 

There are many more stories in my head about Dad. It's incredibly difficult to squeeze everything into this blog report this morning. Suffice it to say, he was an honorable man who lived and who touched our lives, my life, in a special and permanent way.

This one's for you Dad, on your birthday.

tags: family, General Robert Francis Brainard, Cecilia Brainard, US military, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., Middle East, Iraq, Saddam Hussein

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