Every year on Memorial Day, the first person I honor is someone who has had a pervasive presence in my life, but whom I never had the pleasure of meeting. My brother-in-law Jeff Cowley lost his father Jeffry Edward Cowley to Vietnam in 1971 when he was only a year old.
Anyone who has ever met Jeff knows him to be a funny, kind-hearted, hard-working and fair man. It turns out, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but because Jeff didn’t have the opportunity to know his father first-hand, he relies on stories from his friends and family to piece together his narrative.
“What I’ve gathered about my father is that he liked having fun at any cost and had a great sense of humor,” Cowley says. “He was also very proud of his Texas heritage.”
Jeff’s favorite anecdote about his father nods to his adventurous spirit. He remembers hearing about how in high school, his father, uncle and one of their good friends, snuck in and took a dip in their brand new neighborhood pool in Freer, Texas before the pool was officially open. According to some of his army pals, Jeffry Cowley maintained his fun-loving, courageous traits while he was serving in the army.
In addition to the oral history he’s compiled, Jeff says that some of the “stories” he has of his father are deductions he’s made from important photographs. He says that the photo that is most impactful is of a reunion they had while Jeffry Cowley was on R&R in Hawaii.
“He was there for my birth, but this was the first time we ever really met, “ Cowley says. “It was also the last time he would ever see us again.”
Jeff’s grandfather, Harold Edward Cowley, fought in the Army Air Corps and set a record following the end of WWII, flying non-stop from Tokyo to Washington, D.C.. Harold took pride in his son’s Air Medal award which he’d earned as well, but which was particularly rare for someone who was mostly ground based.
Jeffry Cowley was one of three men from Freer, Texas who did not return from Vietnam. The city named a street in his honor and recently set up a scholarship fund at the local high school.
“Memorial Day is a day that we truly look back and give thanks and pay respect and not just to our loved ones who have served our country, but to everyone who has put themselves in harm's way,” Cowley says. “It's a day to feel patriotic and proud, but it's also bittersweet.”
On this bittersweet Memorial Day, I am grateful to Jeffry Cowley for his service and to his family for their sacrifice. I’m equally grateful to all of his friends and family members who continue to share stories about him so that he remains a part of all of our lives.
To all veterans who lost their lives in combat - thank you for your service.
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