Honor Thy Father
- Jeremy Morrison
Randy New, a local artist who has sculpted multiple pieces for the Veterans Memorial Park, barely remembers his father.
"Because I was so young, I don’t have a lot of memories of him,” he explained, "We found out just a couple of days before my sixth birthday.”
New’s father was killed in July of 1967, while serving in Vietnam. He left behind a wife and two sons.
"Most people on The Wall are 17, 18, 19-year-olds,” New said. "My dad was 28. He was a family man. He’d already been in the Army for 10 years.”
Though too young to remember much of his father, New can recall one day — "the day they came, the guys knocking on the door” — with somber clarity. He remember his brother was teaching him to ride a bike, trying to convince him to remove his training wheels.
"We’re rolling back and forth down the sidewalk and then I had the bright idea of just taking one training wheel off, that’s improvement right?,” New recalled. "And he’s like, ‘No, that’s stupid, you can’t do one training wheel, then you’d just lean to that side.’”
As the boys discussed the training wheels, two men from the Army arrived at the family’s front door. The mood shifted dark.
"I remember my brother getting pretty angry about it,” New said. "He said something like, ‘What are those guys doing at our door? And I said, ‘They’re here to tell us that dad died.’ And he got angry about that, probably because he realized that was the truth.”
Years later, New began to find meaning in the experience. The training wheels presented themselves as a valuable metaphor.
"I never thought about it then, and I didn’t even put it together until like way later but as you can see, being an artist, I think everything has symbolic meaning,” New explained. "If you think about it, a kid relies on their parents — a mom, a dad — and here I was taking off one training wheel when I just lost one parent. Which means that I was now relying heavily on one side, which was my mother, which we did, like, major — after he died it was the three musketeers, it was my mom and my brother and me.”
Growing up, New wasn’t aware that his scenario — having lost a father in Vietnam — was particularly different from any other kid in his neighborhood or classroom. He figured "every other kid in the room was like that.”
"I remember the principal kind of whispering to the teacher, ‘this kid, this is his circumstance, or whatever,’” New said. "And I didn’t think it was that rare of a thing at the time. But in retrospect, I go, ‘I must’ve been the only kid in the class, or maybe the only kid in the school.”
As he got older, New began to have questions. He began to wonder about his father. Specifically, he wondered how his dad had died.
"I always wondered about how it happened,” he said. "Because the military always likes to make everyone at home feel like this guy died super heroically or whatever, when the truth is, we all know, it’s just like you’re breathing one minute and one you’re not.”
As he grew from a child into a man, New never learned anything more about how his father had died.
"For 40 years I had no knowledge and no way to find out, but then when the internet comes along, oh boy,” laughed New.
Suddenly, New had access to a wealth of information relating to Vietnam veterans. Searching through the sites, New discovered mentions of his father, and people who had served with him in Vietnam.
"So, I contacted one of the guys,” he said. "I just called him out of the blue.”
New had stumbled upon an Army buddy of his father’s who lived in New Mexico. He called and confirmed that he had served in Vietnam.
"I said, ‘Did you know 1st Lt. George New Jr.,?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I did,’” New recalled the conversation. "I said, ‘This is Randy.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been expecting your call.’”
For 40 years, the man had waited for that phone call. Waited to relay what he knew to a friend’s son.
"I said, ‘Were you there when it happened?’” New pushed the conversation forward. "He said, ‘Yes, I was the last person to touch your father.’”
The man cautioned New, asking how much he wanted to know. Everything. New wanted to hear the "absolute truth.”
"He said, ‘Are you sure?’ And I said, ‘Yes, because I’m a grown man, enough time has passed, maybe as a kid I didn’t want to hear it, but now, in my mid-40s, just lay it out how it went,” New remembers. "And he proceeded to tell me, step by step, everything that happened.”
Throughout May, the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation is sharing a series of stories dealing with service and sacrifice. Check back to read about New’s sculptures currently gracing the memorial park, as well as his plans for the Global War on Terror Memorial sculpture. You can see more of his artwork on his Facebook page.
The Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola depends on the generosity of people like you to provide ongoing maintenance and upkeep for the grounds and the artwork. Please consider becoming a Friend of the Park by setting up a monthly donation. Thank you for your support.
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