Remembering an Army Dad on Veterans Day

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My Dad was an Army officer and died forty years ago in 1972.  It’s hard to believe that many years have gone by — I still think of him a lot, and even dream about him.  When I talk about how I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs I usually describe how I came across Llana of Gathol in a library in Germany when I was 12 — but there’s another piece to the story.  Two years earlier, when I was 10, our family was on a summer vacation visit to Florida and my dad came him from the Eglin Air  Force Base PX with a copy of “Tarzan the Terrible”, which he read.  I was intrigued and tried to read it ….. got through a hundred pages or so, but I wasn’t quite ready for it.  I filed it away . . . and later, when I found Llana of Gathol and, on the shelf next to it, Tarzan and the Lost Empire, I knew a bit about what I was getting into.

The rest of this is slightly off-topic for JCF, but I hope you’ll indulge me:

Remembering an Army Dad on Veterans day

by Michael D. Sellers

A year ago on Veterans Day I remembered my Dad with a video, which I share today with all who remember a military father. And today I will try to honor him with words as well.

Philip Doyle Sellers | 1928-1972
Colonel, US Army Corps of Engineers

My father was serving in Vietnam  in 1972 when the end came. It’s now 40 years later and I still have dreams about him.  The dreams are always the same — I’m trying to please him, and he’s not satisfied.  That was the essence of a complicated relationship that shaped me more than any other influence in my lfe.  I  still haven’t sorted out that relationship — I wonder if I ever will?

In my earliest clear memory of him, I’m a five year old in Washington DC and he’s standing on the front steps of our apartment, spinning a shiny new football on his finger — shiny because it was still wrapped in cellophane, fresh from Sears.  He’s smiling and young and happy, the sun is shining,  there’s a crispness in the air, leaves are blowing, life is good and he is the pillar of my life.

Football was his idea of how to grow a boy into a man — a test of spirit and will and leadership and poise.   He’d played football in high school in Greenville, Alabama, and in college, and there was no question about it — his son was going to play football too. And baseball, which he had also played.  And be damned good at it or there would be hell to pay.

At the time of that first memory, he was  thirty years old, a Captain in the Army, his future stretching out brightly before him.  I’ll always treasure that memory because he seemed truly at peace then.  Life was an opportunity, not a burden; disappointments were at bay, the future was golden.

That period of happiness was all too brief.  Three years later, living in Houston where he was an ROTC instructor at Rice University, my whole world changed on a Sunday afternoon. The day was September 16, 1962, and George Blanda, Billy Cannon, and the Houston Oilers were on TV playing the Boston Patriots, a game they would lose 34-21. In the second half of the game I became aware of a heated, liquor-fueled argument between my Dad and my mom in the kitchen — I’ll never forget the sudden feeling of fear and dread that suddenly came over me.  Everything changed.  I’m sure their turmoil didn’t really start on that day . . . but my awareness of it did, and for me that day stands until now as the divide between feeling happy and secure — and feeling scared and uncertain.  I would later come to realize he felt his dreams were slipping away from him — that he feared that the Army, to whom he had pledged his life, didn’t appreciate him.  He was truly a “man’s man” — principled, forthright, courageous when courage was required.  But he was controversial, hardheaded, not “political” enough, and (the thing that fed his insecurity the most) not a West Pointer.  His career, he felt, was doomed and he was going nowhere.  It ate at him, and would continue to do so even after he received assignments that clearly signaled that he was not the fading officer outcast that he took himself to be.

You can read the rest at


  • This was a very touching story, Michael. I’m glad the two of you had the opportunity in Hawaii to share some emotions together. Your dad must have had a sense of urgency to open up to you the way he did. It’s great that he was able to do so.

  • It must have been a milestone for you to be able to put everything in its place and let the memories be a balm, rather than something open and falling all over you. Very nicely done.

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