A Paratroopers Final Flight
by David Shannon
Art was born in Okmulgee, Okalahoma. Due to his parents divorce when he was nine he moved from one home to another until he joined the service. At times he lived with grandparents, uncles, and even a school teacher. In 1946 he joined the Army, serving among occupying forces in Japan after WWII. While stationed at Ft. Campbell, then Camp Campbell, he entered into an ice-cream store to meet the lady of his life. Mrs. June and Art first went on a double date, but not with each other. They immediately realized their mistake. One month and four days later they were married in Franklin, Kentucky. Eleven months later Art was sent to Korea. There he jumped twice behind enemy lines. Retired Colonel DeWayne Griffin describes this as a rare accomplishment. Art loved being a paratrooper of the 187th Airborne. He jumped well over 100 times. Anytime he returned to Ft. Campbell he and his �Golden Rakkasan Lady� were treated with great honor. The last few days of his life he fought some of the Korean War again. He spoke of getting men back to camp before they burned it and other dangers of war. Then he prayed. He began, �Dear God� and continued the most clear and beautiful prayer for the boys that surrounded him. He asked God to bring them home safely to their mommas and daddies and closed �in Jesus name, Amen.� During Art�s 20 year military career he spent three years in Korea, stationed often at Ft. Campbell and other times in Japan, Virginia, Texas, and Georgia. Finally in 1968 for the first time in his life, he stopped moving. Home became a house in the country located on a dirt road. For almost 40 years Art and June have called Andrew Jackson Parkway home. During his retirement years he loved to spend time with his family and church family. He loved coaching boys basketball. He attended every year of church camp. For years he taught 8th grade boys in Bible class. If there was a need at church that he could fulfill, he sought to help.
Art loved his God. He was in his late twenties when he was baptized into Christ at 11th Street Church of Christ in Nashville. He and June read the Bible every morning after breakfast. He loved to worship on Sundays. He loved the church. No matter what happened in his life his faith never wavered.
Art loved his family. He and June were married for 57 years. Their faithfulness and loyalty have been appreciated by all. They have experienced many hospital stays, surgeries, and recoveries. June has been with him in sickness and in health every step of the way. One of his buddies from the 187th said at his funeral, �When I visited Art and June, I would always go back home to my wife and say to myself, �I can do better.�� He loved his girls, Terri and Gayle. He always said he wouldn�t give them away in marriage, only share them. He loved his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Some of his favorite times were family vacations, especially to Gatlinburg. They have enjoyed many Easter weekends together in the mountains.
Art loved people. I honestly don’t remember getting to know Art. He was the type of man you felt like you had known all your life. There was no pretense about him, making him easy to love. His love for people was evident everywhere he went. He always brought smiles, kind words, chewing gum for children, and laughter for adults. A few years ago Andrew, Phil and myself visited him while he was in rehab. As we entered the rehab room everyone was laughing as if it were a party, not rehab. All eyes were on Art. Patients, staff, doctors, and nurses all loved him. Didn�t we all?
God gives some sweet gifts. The Friday before his passing Andrew, David Fleming, and myself visited Art and June. He had been confused for several days. We were visiting to support June and simply see a man we loved. To our surprise when we entered the room, he was sitting up in his bed and with raised eyebrows and a big smile as he addressed us. The old Art was back. We laughed and joked, talked, and expressed love. We all knew this was probably the final �good day� and we savored every second of it. I asked him how you stay happily married for 57 years and he promptly replied, �keep one foot in the house of the Lord.� When the church was mentioned he said, �tell�em momma, we have the best congregation in the US of A.� When the mission trip to El Salvador was mentioned he asked, �Do you need more money for the trip?� When asked if he wanted us to pray together he answered, �Yea boy, you bet I do.� As I hugged him bye, knowing it would be the final time, he said in my ear, �keep�em going over there at church.� I left realizing God had just given us a rare and precious gift of one more visit.
Art�s favorite song was �I�ll Fly Away� and by faith we believe this old paratrooper had the flight of his life in arms of angels. I can see his smile now.
�We have another reason to go home.
I deeply regret that I am unable to be present at Art�s memorial service. A short time ago June and I discussed this day and I had agreed to participate in some small way at Art�s funeral. I spoke to June the day before Sue and I left Mt. Juliet for California to be with our children and grandchildren. In her sweet unselfish way, June told me to go right ahead and make my trip. I am sorry that he passed before I returned home. I will remember Art as a patriot, a combat hero, and a fellow paratrooper. Art made two combat parachute jumps while serving as a member of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, the famed Rakkasans, (pronounced �ROCK-a-sans�) during the Korean War. He was a faithful husband to June for 57 years, a wonderful father and grandfather. But above all that, he was God’s man. He lived a good life and was ready to go home to be with the Father. I shall miss him, but I would not hold on to him one extra minute if he could not be restored to his much wanted health. I salute Sergeant Hugh A. Steffey.
by Dewayne Griffin