Living and Leaving a Legacy

By Ray Rottman

I was 31 years old when my vibrant, non-smoking father was diagnosed with lung cancer a few days after his 75th birthday; we said our final goodbyes just three months later. Time passes quickly and now at 62 years old I reflect on the reality that my father has been gone for more years than we shared together.

Born in 1915, the third of four children in his family, he and his siblings came of age during the Great Depression, working any job they could find to help the family make ends meet. He married in his early 20s, but influenza took his young wife just months after their wedding. A few years later, he met and fell in love with my mother, and together they raised seven children (I was the caboose).  

When WWII began, despite being a husband and new father, he chose to enlist in the Army. He understood that the nation’s needs were greater than his own.  Despite only having a High School education, he was recognized for his leadership and selected for Officer Training School. He exhibited excellence in every task he was assigned. 

As a freshly minted Lieutenant, he led his company ashore in Normandy in June 1944. His men willingly followed him because of his courageous example. Over the 12 months, he was wounded in battle, evacuated to England to recover, and returned to lead his company during the Battle of the Bulge. He was briefly taken prisoner by the Germans, escaping a few days later in a chaotic tank attack in the Ardennes.

Following the War, he returned to Colorado to work for the railroad, serve in the Army Reserves, and raise his family. Despite never earning more than $12K a year, he and my mother somehow found a way for all seven of their children to graduate from college without loans or debt. I am humbled by his selflessness and generosity when helping others advance.

Ray and his father, Vern Rottman, at Ray’s wedding in 1982.

I recall vividly a time he was washing one of the family’s well-used station wagons in preparation for it to be sold. When the purchaser arrived, I saw that he was a double amputee who needed the car so he could climb in through the tailgate, pull his wheelchair in, and crawl to the front seat.

When my father came into the house after the man left with the car, my mom asked how much he sold it for; my dad (with a tear in his eye) said he had given it to him. My father’s empathy and kindness would serve as a foundation for how I viewed the world.

There are countless stories of how my father’s example helped form the man I would become. He gave unconditional love to his family, had unwavering integrity, and always exhibited servant leadership along with a desire to make things better. He was a leader of character and a great example of the virtues extolled by the Severn Leadership Group.

Of the many lessons my father taught me, the most significant was that everyone (regardless of background) can make the world a better place through their example and legacy. 

As I reflect on my life, I can clearly see the impact his legacy has had on me. He instilled me with patriotism, a love of family, an appreciation of service, and a zest for life.  My father’s example is the reason I served 30 years in the Air Force, my siblings are my best friends, I find joy in helping others, and I recognize and appreciate my abundant blessings.  

My hope is that my father’s legacy lives on through my life’s example to my three sons and grandchildren.

I’ve got a lot to live up to!

*The cover photo is Ray’s father, Vern, mother, Peg, and oldest brother, Lou in 1942.

 

 

 

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