Papa's Legacy

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Life is a precious gift; mine has been blessed by my parents, family members, and close friends whose life example and influence have shaped my values and enriched my life. But it is my maternal grandfather’s example and influence that is uppermost in my mind and heart. Three years ago my Grandpa, or “Papa” as we call him, began his long, stressful battle with cancer. My family and I were always really close to him and saw him practically everyday, so it was very hard for us when we were informed that he had cancer. After he was diagnosed, Papa and Nanny, my grandmother, decided to move in with us and build onto our home. Seeing him and spending time with him every day was wonderful, but as we saw how the disease and its treatment ravaged his body, the time we shared with them became bittersweet. The days before and after he passed away were some of the most challenging days of my life.
Papa was one of my favorite people. I could literally tell him anything. Physically and emotionally he was always there for me. I loved, respected, and admired him; he taught me so much about life and how to live it. He was my hero. Because he was not one to boast about his accomplishments and achievements, I really wasn’t aware he was recognized as a hero by the Air Force. He was awarded the Airman’s Medal, which is the highest medal given by the Air Force for valor out of combat. The accompanying citation reads:
Airman First Class William A. Hand distinguished himself by heroism involving voluntary risk of life at Titan II Missile Complex 373-4, Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, on 9 August 1965. On that date, Airman Hand entered into an area where fire had trapped 53 men, in an attempt to rescue any survivors. Despite visibility of less than one foot in smoke and toxic fumes and the danger of further explosion and fire, Airman Hand persisted in his efforts to search out survivors until it was proven that there were none, showing outstanding leadership and a complete disregard for his own safety while making these attempts…
This is a perfect illustration of how Papa lived his life, doing all he could for the benefit of others regardless of how it affected him. Although I did not hear this story from him personally, I learned many things from Papa’s actions at the Missile Complex. I now look at the big picture more than I did before Papa died. In that tragic accident at the Missile Complex, the “big picture” could have affected many more lives. His extraordinary acts of selflessness have motivated me to be all I can be for myself as well as others. I am now more cognizant that everything I do in life affects other people in some way.
In spite of the tough-guy image Papa liked to portray to other adults, with kids it was a totally different story. He became like a grandpa to every kid he met, especially the kids who rode the special needs bus he drove for the Cheney School District. To them, he was “Papa Bill” or “Mr. Bill” and he always had a high-five for every student who got on and off his bus. Papa listened to them, he was sensitive to their needs, and treated them with respect. By his example with people of all ages, I learned that a little caring goes a long way and it’s not what’s on the outside that counts; it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
Watching Papa work was an experience. Even when he worked at home, he always had to make sure everything was organized, prepped, and done correctly without skipping any steps. While Papa was in the Air Force, there was no such thing as a five day, forty-hour week. He worked hard until the job was completed and took pride in every single project he undertook. Maybe Papa is the reason I strive for perfection. Like him, I prefer to have a set plan for any task in which I’m involved and I want it to be done correctly without cutting any corners. Papa’s work ethic taught me about perseverance and giving 100% to every endeavor in order to achieve my goals.
In every job he held, Papa was a team player. Early in my childhood, he helped teach me the value of teamwork and encouraged me to be the best I could be for myself and my teammates. As a family member, student-athlete, and employee, I strive to be a contributing member of the team. Papa taught me that every single person is important; even when one person excels, it is the team effort that enables that person to shine. I have also learned that the ability to work with diverse groups of people is an asset in every area of life.
I miss Papa and feel his loss deeply. Life is a precious gift; I never realized how precious it is or how quickly it can end until Papa died. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about him. I am so thankful he was my Grandfather and played such an active part in my life. Sometimes I wish he was still here to give me advice, give me emotional support, or just to give me a hug and say “I love you.” I choose to honor him and myself by working hard to achieve my goals, by caring enough to be a team-player, and by having an altruistic approach to life. That is Papa’s legacy.





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