“In Fifty Years, It Never Came Up”
After Pausch’s father died in 2006, the family sorted through his things. They rediscovered what they already knew—he was a man full of life and a spirit of adventure. In his father’s belongings, Pausch found photos of his father as a young man playing the accordion; as a middle-aged man doing one of his favorite things, playing Santa; and as an older man clutching a gigantic stuffed bear. There is another photo of him riding a rollercoaster on his eightieth birthday, surrounded by young people and wearing a huge smile.
Some of his father’s mysteries make his son smile. There is a photo of him in a jacket and tie, standing in a grocery store and proudly holding up a small brown paper bag. Pausch has no idea what is in the bag, but he knows his father so he is sure it was something cool. Sometimes his father would come home from work with small treats for his kids, and he always delivered them with dramatic flair and flourish. His delivery was generally more fun than whatever he gave them. The photo with the bag reminds Pausch of those memories.
His father left a stack of papers, most of which were related to his insurance business or documents concerning his nonprofit organization and other charitable projects. Buried in the stack of mundane papers Pausch found a surprising military document—a citation issued in 1945 when his father was in the army. It is a citation for “heroic achievement” granted by the commanding general of the 75th Infantry Division.
His father’s infantry company was attacked by German forces on April 11, 1945. In the early stages of the battle, heavy artillery fire caused injuries to eight men. The citation notes his father’s complete disregard for his own safety as he jumped up from his protected position to give medical treatment to the wounded men of his unit. Shells continued to fall as he worked, and his ministrations were successful. All eight of the wounded men were successfully evacuated. At the age of twenty, Pausch’s father was awarded the Bronze Star for valor.
In his parents’ fifty years of marriage and in the thousands of conversations Pausch had with his father, this information never came up; no one in the family knew anything about it. Weeks after his father died, Pausch was still learning an important lesson from him about sacrifice and humility.