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Archive for March, 2019

Hey old man! No doubt you’re still kicking. Very happy 57th to you!

I’m traveling with Jace this week, but when I get home, in your honor I will have a cup of coffee in the State High coffee mug you gave me.

You won’t believe it . . . I actually had a dream with you in it, either last night or the night before. Seeing the reminder about your birthday pop up on my calendar must’ve got my brain going. It was pretty vague, but I remember you and I were both adults and just walking around talking. That sounds about right. The philosophers.

I am in Hays, Kansas with Jace this morning.

We flew into Kansas City yesterday, drove to visit Hesston College – one of several he has been accepted to in Kansas alone – then on to here to visit Fort Hays State University today.

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You probably didn’t know, but our former leader of Indiana State University, Dr. Alan  Rankin, went to Fort Hays College. Turns out, he was a classmate and probably a student activities competitor with Kerri‘s uncle, John Willcoxon, Her dad’s older brother. He would’ve been 104 in July.

After college here, he went to work in Topeka then joined the war effort and became a B-24 pilot.

Before enlisting, he was a top performer in everything he did. He was president of the junior Jaycees, a Boy Scout volunteer, volunteer at the Methodist church, and had a great reputation in his job, moving up quickly getting established in the Topeka business and social communities. He also began taking flying lessons.

He wrote a beautiful and moving and confident letter to his parents when he decided to volunteer for the Army Air Corps. He eventually made it to Papua New Guinea with Col. Rogers and the 90th Bomb Group where he was made operations officer even as a young lieutenant; pretty impressive, and apparently a good pilot too. Eventually he volunteered for a mission he was not required to fly in that position, but they had not been able to destroy a bridge that had been on the target list for quite a long time.

He volunteered to take a shot at it and was successful. As they returned to base, he and his crew were attacked by perhaps a dozen Japanese fighters, shooting down several before his plane exploded. Only two survivors. John’s body and several others were not recovered. Sad but proud history in her family.

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Back to Rankin and Fort Hays, Newspaper accounts mention both in student government and seemed indicate they would’ve been two of the top guys in their class, high marks in academics, very involved and vying for leadership positions on campus.

I often think about how well Kerri’s dad did in his professional life and what Dr. Rankin achieved in his career becoming a university president, and I, like everyone in the family believe that John would’ve done even more beyond his contribution to the war effort as well. I suppose we all feel a sense of sadness about what might’ve been, but take great pride in his accomplishments and who he was as a person.

Almost 2 years ago, when Jace and I took a 4700 mile road trip, from Colorado to Indiana to Canada to West Yellowstone and back to Colorado, we made our first stop at Fort Hays State. We went to the student union where we found a memorial to students who have been lost in the various wars, John among them. It was a touching moment, two generations and life-times beyond, but very directly connected, not only to that spot at that school, but the family farm where John and his brother, Sam – Jace’s grandfather – grew up just a few hours away.

Now this nearly 2 years later, Jace and I are in that very spot again and he has been accepted in that very school, along with KU where his grandparents attended. We all feel a real sense of connection and pride, as you can imagine.

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So in just a couple of hours, Jace will tour the Fort Hays State University campus and will have more to add to his decisions! (Then on to KU and more decisions and pressures tomorrow!)

Anyway, happy birthday! That’s your birthday inspiration story for the day.

Do something special and different today.

Love to you, Brother.

Michael

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