Living with Grief, a chapter in Living Learning Loving
I’m not good with grief. I’ve had plenty of practice, but I don’t seem to get better at it. It may be that I don’t like change any more than the next person or it may be that I really, truly hate saying “Goodbye.”
My brother-in-law, Firmin Baye, died July 6th and he was a remarkable man. My only brother died in July 2012. Since I’m the youngest and my siblings are several years older I guess I better get used to this. It’s just that I don’t know how.
Grief is more than dealing with death. It can be dealing with divorce. My divorce nearly killed me. In fact, it did kill something in me-never to recover.
I do get past the heartache – eventually.
Here are the words I shared in the Port Arthur News and at Firmin’s memorial gathering.
Firmin J. Baye, A Local Hero-With a Remarkable Career
Firmin J. Baye, a real hero and my brother-in-law, grew up on Main Street in Groves, Texas passed away July 6. He was the only son in a family of nine. As a boy he sang in the choir and was an altar boy at the Catholic Church. Music was always his first love. He would take his sister’s harmonica to the movie theater on Saturdays and play so well they let him in for free. His father bought him a clarinet and he taught himself to play in the garage because no one wanted to hear him practicing. Little did he know where his musical talent would eventually take him.
His honorable work ethic began early. When he was ten years old he started shining shoes and cleaning floors at a barbershop. At twelve he worked after school at the Groves golf course. During World War II he worked at Hebert Kaspar’s Gulf Gas Station.
He met my sister, Jaynet Cawley, while they were in the PNG High School Band. They had their first real date the night I was born (at home) in Port Neches.
A friend, Barton Lee Hazelwood, encouraged Firmin and a few others to join the Army Band at Ft. Hood which he did. In 1949 he made Sergeant and received orders to go overseas. Jaynet had planned to go to college but those plans quickly changed. They married September 17, 1949. Burton Lee Hazelwood, the writer of “These Boots Were Made for Walkin” was his best man.
A month after their wedding Firmin departed for California to board a ship to Guam. Nine months later Jaynet joined him. Before long the Korean War started and everything changed. Some of the band members went with the first ones into Korea. In the scramble to move troops around, some were shipped to Japan. Firmin was one of them.
In 1955 he was accepted by the Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C. where he learned to play all the instruments in the band-a skill that he enjoyed sharing with others throughout his life.
As much as Firmin loved music he made a decision that would be a life altering choice. One extremely hot afternoon while playing in the Army band, as his feet were sinking into the melting asphalt, ten Army helicopters flew over with pilots dangling their legs from the doors. He decided that looked better than playing in the sweltering heat. So he changed careers and was accepted as a student into helicopter school in Fort Rucker, Alabama. Eventually he became the first Warrant Officer to become instrument qualified. Later he became the first Army pilot to become “instrument certified” in a helicopter. Eventually he became an Instrument Examiner.
He became a father in 1958. Their only child, Michael R. Baye, would benefit many times over from his dad’s experiences and the lessons he taught him.
In 1965 while serving in Korea he and another pilot left maneuvers to rescue several thousand Koreans that were caught in a flooding river. Some were hanging onto branches in trees. They loaded as many as the choppers would hold, brought to higher ground, then went back for more. To do this he had not obeyed orders. They arrived back at the DMZ very late and faced serious consequences, possibly a court martial, until the Prime Minister of Korea heard what he had done. The Prime Minister held a ceremony where he gave Firmin a plaque, awards, accommodations and a gold ring. Interestingly, the Commanding Officer decided that he would not go ahead with a court martial after all.
In 1965-66 he served in Vietnam where he airlifted wounded. His daily missions were to take troops into drop zones so they could search for Viet Cong. After refueling we would carry food to the troops. On the return trip he took the wounded and dead back to Saigon. In the evening they would go back and get the troops delivering them to their locations. Then go back to get the dead and wounded.
Shortly before he finished his tour of duty, after a long day of taking the young troops into the war zone and after flying the wounded to the hospital all day the chopper was sloshing with blood. He had yet another load of inexperienced young men to take in to fight. When he looked back he saw their heads down looking at their boots standing in pools of other young men’s blood. He wished he had thought to wash it away before they got in.
Firmin received thirty Air Medals and a Bronze Star during his tour in Vietnam.
There were some very close calls. He wrote, “at times like this you feel that you have God and his angels with you.”
After being thoroughly investigated, he was assigned to the White House Flight Detachment that supported LBJ when he was west of the Mississippi River. This included all overseas trips. One of the highlights of his life was flying President Johnson into The Vatican on Christmas Eve.
Having Firmin as my brother-in-law has definitely been a highlight in my life.
Gail holds a degree from Lamar University in Speech and a Master’s from the University of Texas. She was an educator in regular and special education for twenty years, finishing her professional career as a Braille teacher. She is a Certified Professional Coach with Fowler International Academy. She married Sam after raising three children as a single mother. In 2007 She founded SMORE for Women. SMORE is a nonprofit association whose goal is Single Moms, Overjoyed, Rejuvenated, & Empowered. Her stories have been published in several Christian books and magazines. Her book, Living Learning Loving, published in July 2015, is available for purchase on CreateSpace, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble online.