Denise's Corner

Honoring my Dad John Fales, Jr. on Veterans Day

I wanted to write a little about my dad, John Fales, Jr. on the site for Veterans Day. He was blinded in Vietnam and has lived an extraordinary life of service ever since. CBS News did a nice piece on my dad 5 yeas ago and that is here.

Update on December 8th, 2018: My dad passed away on November 26th, 2018. Thank you for reading this piece on him, I am so proud of all he accomplished in his 78 years. This article is just a tiny bit of it.

I’ve never known my father sighted.

He was blinded in Vietnam soon after I was born. I have personally never asked him much about the war, but I do know he was a forward observer for artillery in the Marines, which online I’ve read articles that call it the “eyes of the artillery”. It seems ironic that he soon wouldn’t have his own eyesight.

After becoming blind, dad learned how to adjust to life. The most amazing thing to me was that he went to college for both his bachelors and masters at a time that voice technology did not exist. That changed later, but early Kurzweil technology until the invention of Siri was about a 40 year process. Dad went on to work for the government for about 30 years, and sometime in the mid-1970s met President Gerald Ford at Arlington Cemetery. That led to a second meeting and a photograph in the White House. I was only 9 or 10 at the time, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me that within 40 years, he would have met 7 U.S. Presidents (through President Obama, who he met twice at the White House Veterans Day breakfasts).

Dad’s “business card” has long been a nail file – which he handed to President Obama (while saying “file it away”). Photo copyright the White House.

In addition to working for the government, my father has written a column for over 30 years called Sgt. Shaft, it ran in the Washington Times for many of those years. That allowed him also to become a member of the National Press Club, and he celebrated 25 years in 2018 including many years on the Speakers Committee. He still sits at the head table for speakers on occasion (including a couple of days ago), and in the past was at the head table for Gary Sinise, Toby Keith, and his longtime friend Tom Ridge among others. Dad and two other veterans started the Blinded American Veterans Foundation in 1985, which has helped countless other veterans. It is all volunteer, he considered his government job as his work and the foundation as a passion project. He retired in 2006 from government service. For dad, life has been all about helping other sensory disabled veterans.

Years ago now, with Tom Ridge at a BAVF event

He has been honored countless times through the years, from receiving an award in 1984 for Outstanding Handicapped Veteran of the Year to being guest of honor at the Marine Barracks’ Sunset Parade. He received the AMVETS Silver Helmet Rehabilitation Award. He was honored at an Iwo Jima Sunset Parade over 15 years ago. He also has the Purple Heart and other service medals, and dozens of award plaques.

Dad and Heea honored at a Sunset Parade

Each year for most of the last 32 years, I’ve headed up to Washington D.C. For Flag Day, which is a really important time for my dad. The foundation celebrates in a bipartisan way on Capitol Hill, recognizing politicians and others who have assisted disabled veterans. Friends of my dad including Ridge, Jim Webb (former U.S. Senator & Secretary of the Navy) and Max Cleland (I met him first when he was a V.A. administrator, he eventually was a U.S. Senator) have all been part of the event at some point.

Dad received the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award the same year as Donald Driver

I am really fortunate to have learned a lot over the years from my father. For one, that being disabled doesn’t have to stop one from having a very full life and family. He raised 6 kids with my stepmother Heea, who has been his eyes for most of my life. He has more persistence, more generosity, is more outgoing and embodies volunteerism above and beyond almost anyone I know. To match him in any of those ways for me would be a very tall order, he’s really one of a kind.

At the AMVETS Silver Helmet Awards

I made a lot of edits to this article to keep it on the short side, there are a lot of memories through the years. But one last thing that occurred to me through all the memories is that there isn’t a lot that dad couldn’t do if he wanted to. Even bowling. My earliest bowling memory is with him and Jim Mayer. Mayer is a Vietnam veteran, double amputee with then wooden legs, now current prosthetics. He coined the term “Alive Day” and celebrates it each year. That we could all go bowling together is simple and remarkable at the same time.

I’m really proud to be able to call him dad. Semper Fi.