Saturday, June 18, 2016

Fathers' Day Tribute to Amos Doyle Sanders

He was born in 1920 and raised a cowboy-- a real cowboy-- in the panhandle of Texas along with his elder cousin, Gene Autry. At age 10, he worked in the fields at night with his brother, Ray, cutting hay, riding on the backs of a two-horse team, holding a lantern to light the way while Ray ran the mower. Uncle Ray would tell me later, "I was worried sick that your Dad would fall off those horses and I was going to run over him with the mower and cut him to pieces." At age 14, his family, our grandparents, lost their farm and ranch to the effects of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.

At 18, he left home for the "Gold Rush of the 1930s" when the federal government opened large swaths of western forest to logging. He and his brother, Ray, worked in the logging camps of southwestern Colorado-- in The Glade-- and lived in Dolores and the now-gone logging town of McPhee.

He was an artillery and field infantry soldier in World War II, mopping up the Nazis in France at the Battle of the Bulge and capturing the world's largest underwater submarine docks at Keroman Submarine Base, Lorient, France. On Christmas Eve, 1944, he was crossing the English Channel with 4,000 other troops on two transports, while Silent Night played on the ships' loudspeakers. He would tell me later, "There wasn't a dry eye on those ships. I sure was missing your mother." The sister ship to his transport that night, the SS Leopoldville, following immediately behind, was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat and sunk, killing over 800 soldiers, the second largest single loss of US life in World War II, behind Pearl Harbor. He would tell me later, "I guess it wasn't my time to go, but it sure was for a lot of other guys."

After the war, we was a private pilot, when flying small aircraft over the Rocky Mountains was not exactly commonplace or safe. He told me about a time when his wings iced-up while flying over Soldier's Summit, Utah and he was forced into an emergency landing on a dirt road. On that same dirt road at the same time was a farmer on a tractor, with his back to Dad's oncoming landing. Dad said, "Airplanes don't have horns, so I was barreling down on this old farmer with no way to warn him. I had my window open, yelling and banging my hand on the side of the airplane. At the very last second, he turned around and saw me and this airplane with its propeller turning, coming down on him, and he drove his tractor off into a ditch on the right side of the road. When he went into that ditch, my right wing went right over the top of his head."

He grieved the loss of a daughter at 18 months and a son at 18 years, and ultimately, he died of a broken heart. One of my most vivid memories as a young child of four years old, is crawling into his arms at the kitchen table, trying to console him, while he sobbed uncontrollably after learning about the death of our brother. I could not understand why Dad was crying.

He was a chronic explorer and adventurer, with zero lack of confidence... and his self-confidence was well-deserved, born and honed in his life's experiences. He drove a manual transmission, long-bed, two-wheel drive Chevy pickup with tire chains over Black Bear Pass, Colorado, three different times. He made Mom and me get out of the truck on the tight corners, "just in case." Actually, he didn't have to make Mom get out. She refused to ride and got out on her own, saying, "What are we going to do if you go over the edge, Doyle??!" to which Dad replied, "Pick me up at the bottom. And don't remarry."

He was a beautiful singer and whistler. He was a practical joker. He was a champion cribbage player-- the chess match of cards. He was an environmentalist and son of Mother Nature, made of her dirt. He could cast a fly to an unsuspecting rainbow trout with the grace of an artist's brush and precision of a surgeon's knife. He considered any other form of fishing as uncivilized and wouldn't let me fish any other way. One time, I bought a Zebco bait casting fishing outfit... and he made me return it. He was a "one shot" hunter. If he couldn't kill a deer, elk, or otherwise with a single, humane bullet, he wouldn't pull the trigger. And we was an expert marksman. I never saw him take more than one shot, including the times when he would shoot the head off a grouse for "camp meat" during elk and deer season, with a 30.06 rifle. Not exactly a bird gun.

He was a skilled poker player when gambling was still a mark of the Wild West. He owned the best bar and was married to the most beautiful woman in town. He served his country in the Air Force during the Korean War. He was involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis...the Vietnam War...the USS Pueblo Incident.

In retirement, we was a cowboy again, returning to the San Juan mountains he loved so much, in Southwestern Colorado. In death, his grave looks over those same mountains, the La Platas, alongside our Mom, the love of his life, and our brother, Gene, and sister, Linda Sue.

He was our father of six.

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