Recently I’ve had a profound understanding forced upon me. My step-father passed away on May 6th, 2016. Ours was a difficult relationship primarily due to the inability to communicate. I have held ill feelings for how harsh and unfeeling he was to me, my brother and sister for all these years. I conducted the memorial service and I gave the following eulogy.
Paul L. Harbert
May 16, 1930 ~ May 6, 2016 (age 85)
Paul Louis Harbert was born May 16, 1930, in Clarksburg, West Virginia. His father was Okey Jackson Harbert and Lena Opal Griffith.
Lena, his mother, died as a result of giving birth to Paul’s brother David Lee Harbert. The loss of his mother at age 4 affected the rest of his life.
He joined the US Navy April 21, 1949. He left the Navy for about a year after his first enlistment. When he rejoined the US Navy, he chose to go into the Seabees, or Naval Construction Battalion and eventually became an Equipment Operator.
Dad spent 21 years and 5 months in the US Navy, retiring in Sept 1970. He then worked in a number of jobs related to equipment operation for various employers.
In 1962, he married Edna Virginia Glover. She passed away in 2002. They were together 40 years.
During his Naval service, dad earned these awards.
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal w/Device
Good Conduct Medal 4th award
Vietnam Service Medal w/FMF Combat Insignia
Combat Action Ribbon w/2 bronze stars
These last two awards are given to those who were in ground combat under fire. This is something I did not know.
Another thing I found out when looking through his military papers. In Vietnam, a fuel depot caught on fire and was threatening an 11,000 gallon tank of JP4 fuel. Dad coordinated the use of a bulldozer to cover the flames.
He was brave.
But, these facts are not the complete measure of Paul. Preparing for this is memorial service provided an opportunity to access my memories. Let us use a few words from those close to him to paint a better picture.
In 2003, Paul met Nellie Rourk, married and have been together for the past 13 years. She has told me that this has been the happiest time of her life. I’m told by many friends that Paul was happy too.
I learned recently that in the past number of years Paul turned to religion. On one hand I’m surprised, because I was raised by him. In all the 52 years I knew him only once am I aware of him setting foot in a Church. On the other hand, I know human nature, and typically we turn to spiritual things as we get older.
Though he handled it well, Paul was definitely affected by his experiences in Vietnam. He held in those feelings for a long time. As I noted, he received medals and ribbons that were awarded for being in combat. I learned from Nell that dad had to kill during wartime and that he felt that he could not be forgiven. I also learned that there came a time when he finally prayed for forgiveness.
There are only two sins for which we cannot be forgiven: the shedding of innocent blood and blaspheming the Holy Ghost.
Speak briefly about the Plan of Salvation.
I outlined that we lived before we were born here, we are here to gain experience and see if we will accept Jesus, do our best, then die. If we have done our best all will be well.
I would like to paint a more personal picture.
I am Paul’s stepson. My mother Edna Virginia Glover and my father divorced in 1961. My brother Bill and I were living with my grandmother in West Virginia.
In July of 1962, only 3.5 months after they got married they traveled from Florida to West Virginia.
I, my brother Bill and sister Marsha returned to Florida with Edna and Paul. I don’t know the specific circumstances of how we came to live with Paul and mom, and now 54 years later it doesn’t matter. He was 32 years old, he was without his mother from age 4 and had at that time spent 13 years in the Navy. He took a wife and her 3 oldest children and made an immediate family. Paul was married to Edna, my mother for nearly 40 years
He stepped up as a father.
I was 8 years old, my brother was 7, and my sister was 6. We lived in a tiny house dad rented from a man named John who lived next door. The two houses were in the middle of a large cow pasture just outside of Jacksonville, Florida. As an enlisted man, an E5, there wasn’t much money. We bought milk from a lady across the road who had one milk cow. The milk was the real deal, no pasteurization, and all the cream present. You had to shake it before drinking.
At one point, I think it must have been that Christmas, Bill and I got cowboy presents, and we decided to go off in the woods. We knew where we were and how to get home, but dad didn’t know that we had spent a lot of time in the woods. When it began to be dark, we went to the road and started walking back. A few minutes later he drives up. He was spitting mad. At the time, I was scared of him. Now I realize he was the one afraid that something had happened to us.
Then he met Nell, and they have been married for 13 years. These two very different women gave dad their lives. Nell tells me that the last 13 years has been the happiest she has ever had. I’m sure dad would say the same. This is not to diminish the time with mom. It is human nature that the current and recent memories carry the most weight.
He cared about us.
Most of the years I lived with dad, we worked. We had gardens that produced a lot of vegetables: carrots, radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, and others. And always lots of tomatoes. Bill and I often plowed the field with two shovels and two garden rakes. I always resented having to do that work, but now I realize as an E1 in the Navy there wasn’t a lot of money. The food we grew made a big difference. It was probably due to the garden that the three of us got school clothes.
We washed the dishes every night when he was home. And we watched him cook. I learned to wash and iron clothes.
He taught us the value of work.
Some time later he needed to work on a car. I don’t mean change the oil or tune it. He set out to overhaul the automatic transmission. I remember the transmission sitting on the back porch. I remember he dug out a pit and built two ramps in the field next to the house and got the car up there so he could work under it.
I watched him fix that car and many more vehicles over the years. We overhauled an engine in an old truck. I watched him tackle just about any repair that was needed. Those of you who knew him later in life, saw how much time he spent tinkering about, fixing things, making tools, finding ways to do things.
Thomas and I went out to the shed on Friday. Within a few minutes, we found half a dozen Paul modified tools.
He was resourceful.
Going through his papers, we found that he was trained to operate a landing craft. He never mentioned this. Once he and I took his little John boat out on the Wadmalaw River fishing. When we got back to the shore, he told me to jump out and pull the boat to shore. Unfortunately, I was not trained in landing craft operations and pulled the little john boat up until the boat, the motor, and dad all sank. When I heard the vocalization coming from him, I looked back to see him scrambling to gather all the floating boat stuff. He was not happy, but I learned something that day.
Something I did not know until last night was he started out as a Radio Operator. I was a radioman when I was in the Navy. We both trained at Bainbridge, Maryland
Over the years now and then, he would tell us about his travels. He spoke of being in North Africa, in Morocco. Last night I found out more. In 1954, he was in Port Lyautey, Morroco. He met a woman there who seems to have been more than just a friend. Her name was Regina Sandoval. He has kept this picture around 62 years.We went through dozens of pictures last night; there were many photos with people neither Thomas or I could identify; men and women in all kinds of places from around the world. We talked about the possible stories of Paul that we would never know anything about.
He had a life before I knew him.
He also was in Argentia, Newfoundland, Port Hueneme, California, Taipei, Taiwan, Da Nang, Vietnam, Phu Bai, Vietnam, and Chu Lai, Vietnam, Mayport, Florida, Charleston, SC, Great Lakes, Michigan, Bainbridge, MD. And probably a few places we don’t know about.
He was traveled
Here are a few lessons I learned from Paul Harbert
- Never be afraid to try.
- If it’s broke, you can’t hurt it to try to fix it.
- Work is not a bad thing
- I learned the value of being creative.
- I learned the value of education, both formal and practical
This is how he affected my life.
When I was approaching my sixteenth birthday, I realized I wanted a different kind of life than the one my ancestors experienced. I decided that I would learn and do all that struck my interest. My first interest was to learn to play the guitar. Dad bought me a $14.95 guitar from western auto. I started learning to play. Eventually, I became good enough to perform. Today my interests, talents, and abilities are numerous. Here are a few.
- I am an accomplished woodworker and luthier.
- I am an author.
- I served in the Navy in Submarines
- I know electronics and electricity
- I know how to cook and bake
- I can operate a sail and power boat.
- I went to college and graduate school.
- I’ve traveled the world.
Paul took my mother as his wife, then took as his own her three oldest children. He stepped up as a father.
He gave us a better life than we would have had and he gave my mother a son. He loved
He taught us how to do things, even when we didn’t want to. He taught us the value of creativity and work.
Paul could fix just about anything, creating tools when he needed and always finding a way. He was resourceful.
The measure of a person is not how much money they have or the education they may have achieved. The measure of a person is not the accolades of the world. Neither is the measure of a person the trials and struggle they endure.
The final measure of person, is the legacy they leave loved ones. For my part, I have come to realize how a large a measure of who I am comes from the influence of Paul Harbert. It is this legacy I choose to remember.
I hope the readers of this post can find your legacies.