Next week my father, Ned McCourt, turns ninety years old. We had an open house for him last Friday during the Thanksgiving holiday. A lot of his family, friends and acquaintances were there to help him celebrate. We didn't put all of the candles on his birthday cake. He said someone might call the fire department.
Dad is still in great shape for being ninety. Most people would never guess he is that old. He surely doesn't look it and he doesn't act it either. He still lives in his own home, takes care of himself, drives his pickup around town and sings in the church choir.
He does his own irrigating and takes care of the livestock on his small farm in Wellington. He still makes beautiful leather belts for family and friends. He is still active in church and attends city council meetings when he has something to say.
Dad has a sense of humor, too. Last week when he was only 89 years, 11 months and two weeks old, my wife Jeannie ask him how it felt to be ninety. He smiled with a twinkle in his eye, and said, "How would I know? I'm not ninety yet."
Dad was born in a little log farmhouse in the Uintah Basin in 1920. The world was a lot different then. The family came to Carbon County in a covered wagon in 1923, his father hoping to find work in the coalmines. The trip from Duchesne through Myton and Nine Mile Canyon took most of a week. They were pioneers who helped settle the town of Columbia, living in a tent until the town was built and there were houses to move into.
Dad's father died when dad was only nine years old. There wasn't much of a social safety net in those days and the family felt the full force of the Great Depression. His widowed mother struggled and made many personal sacrifices to take care of her six children, working as a janitor, seamstress and midwife. The four boys and two girls learned to work hard or do without at an early age. The two older boys, Tom and Ivan, went to work in the coalmines while still in their early teens. Dad was the first of his family to graduate from high school. In 1939 he went to work in the mines, just a few weeks after graduation.
The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on dad's twenty-first birthday. He joined the Navy and fought in the biggest naval battle in history. He was at Leyte Gulf during the fight to take back the Philippine Islands. Dad was serving as a gunner's mate first class when the Japanese sent in and bloody fight, lasting more than a week. There were hundreds of ships, thousands of airplanes and hundreds of thousands of men involved. Dad's ship and crew were issued a presidential citation for their gallant actions in rescuing American survivors after a major naval battle off Samar Island near Leyte. He was also at the battle of Peleliu, one of the deadliest and costliest island campaigns of the Pacific.
Dad married Bertha Reon Winn in January 1945. They were together for 62 years, until God called her home in 2007. After the war they settled on a little farm in Wellington and raised a good crop of boys. Dad worked in the coalmines and then went to work for Carbon County. He served as a deputy sheriff for 22 years, from 1952 until 1974. He was president of the Utah Peace Officer's Association during that time.
In 1974, at the age of 53, he went back in the coalmines and stayed until Price River Coal closed the doors in the 1980s. In retirement he has been a farmer, a rancher and a wonderful grandpa with 17 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and one great- great-grandchild, so far.
My father is a member of that greatest generation Tom Brokaw wrote about. He has honorably served his family, his community, his church and his country his whole life. If all men were like him, the world would be a wonderful place.
Good men do good works and all of humanity benefits. If this country and its leadership could again turn to the principles, moral values, honor and integrity that has guided and sustained men like Ned McCourt, we would have nothing to fear and our future would be bright and prosperous.
Thank you, and happy birthday, Dad, from the whole family.
We love you.