1945 Howitzer USMA Yearbook

Dad, A Perfect Role Model

June 13, 2024

On this Father's Day weekend, my mind wanders smilingly to memories of my Dad, real and imagined ...

My Dad, Middleton McDonald, Jr., was a West Point graduate, Class of 1945. He was a pilot in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the Air Force. He and my Mom met on VJ Day, August 14, 1945, on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee. She was in school, and he was training to fly B-17s and B-24s in Smyrna, Tennessee. They were married a month later, as he was being deployed in Frankfurt, Germany where I was born. Sadly, he was killed in a tragic plane crash when I was only 16 months old and my Mom was pregnant with my younger brother.

Since my relationship with Dad was only as an infant, his impact on my life was through stories, memories shared with me by others, and my own self-created images of him as a man and a dad. Here are a few of these:

He was fun-loving, athletic, and responsible. On the day I was born, he bought and set up a German electric train for "us." While at West Point, he was a diver on the swim team, and in Germany coached the Allied Forces European swim team to a championship. He won the 3-meter diving championship, was in the Olympic diving trials, and would have probably competed in the 1948 Olympics.

As a military officer and leader, he learned at West Point to live the motto of "Duty, Honor, Country." He lived it daily, and my Mom told me that while he was a cadet at the Academy, the only correct answers to questions from superiors were, "Yes sir." "No sir." And "No excuse, sir." He lived with integrity in every way.

He was curious and adventuresome, and he loved people. In February of 2000, I was thinking of my Dad because that was the month he was born. It occurred to me that I could learn more about him by going on the West Point website to look up the Class of 1945. I discovered that at that time, only about 500 were still living, and 135 had email addresses, signified by gold West Point crests next to their names. In an email, I told them about my brother and me, our Mom, and our Dad. I asked them to share any information, good, bad, or ugly, so that my brother and I could learn more about him.

I was thankful to receive 40 responses via email, letters, and phone calls. We were also invited to their 55th reunion at West Point, which I was able to attend, and where I learned even more. While there are too many stories to share here, he was quite the character, always learning, pushing the limits, and doing his best to improve. Everyone who spoke with me about him talked of his sense of humor, his connection with others, and his natural leadership abilities. He was respected and admired by all.

He was an inspiring role model. As a child, I pored over the 1945 West Point Yearbook, The Howitzer. The class of '45 was quite accomplished as a part of "the Greatest Generation." Many went on to become outstanding Generals and leaders in industry. The athletic teams were among the best in the country, as these West Point cadets were crowned national champions multiple times, had six All-Americans on the '45 football team, and produced two Heisman Trophy winners, Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard. My Dad and his swim team were champions. My image of this group was that they were winners!

I'm sure the perception of my Dad, which I've created and grown throughout my life, is much "larger than life." None of us are perfect; however, in my view, he was pretty close. The reality is that he was human, as we all are, with the frailties, flaws, and shortcomings which are part of each of us, and yet he became for me a person to aspire to be, to look up to, and to emulate. As Vince Lombardi once said, "We cannot achieve perfection, but if we pursue it, we can achieve excellence!"

Every day, we are creating a legacy as role models for others. Our legacy is being developed whether we know it or not. Make your legacy intentional. Make a difference in the lives of others.

Dad, you've made a real difference in my life and in the lives of so many whom you touched in both life and death. Thank you for being my Dad. Happy Father's Day in Heaven! I love you and miss you every day. Love, Jay.