Out in a morning errand to Galway Market, I couldn’t help but notice them. They were laughing, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. They were regulars at the Galway Market. Two couples – Joe and Martha Apicella, Tom and Jeanne Cowper – were sitting around a table, coffee in hand. They were the best of friends. They had entered into the autumn of their lives.
Joe and Martha were previously widowed. In the days before cancer took their much-loved spouses, their two young families befriended each other here in Galway. Happiness is the word that aptly described both Joe and Martha’s first marriages until the day of their respective losses. So you can see that when they married each other it was the marriage of two long-time acquaintances. It was quite beautiful, like springtime rediscovering itself in the last season of life.
Tom and Jeanne came to Galway after a career in the military. Tom had retired from the Marine Corps as a Major. He had gone up through the ranks from a private in Korea, to an officer flying jets before the Cuban threat, to a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. They had come to Galway to return to the civilian world and workplace with their four sons.
Tom and Jeanne were the first persons that Martha and I met when we came to Galway in 1977. We stayed in their home when I was in the process of being considered as the pastor of the Bible Baptist Church of Galway. So reader, you see my ties to the Cowper family go back to the beginning of our time in Galway. I have observed them firsthand. What a great couple! They too, were happily married.
Over the years these two couples were like family to me. Let me tell you a family secret about the men, one not intentionally hidden, but due to the nature of these men who seldom talked about themselves and what they did in life, probably few people in Galway know. First, these two cronies were veterans of war. Also, they both were officers. Joe was a retired Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. He served in World War II, flying missions over Germany in B24s in the days when the Air Force was the Army Air Corp. Lastly, both men received the highest honor that any airman can receive (outside of the Medal of Honor), that is, “the Distinguished Flying Cross.” They were men of valor, men of courage! They put their lives on the line for the sake of our Country.
Like many who bravely serve in combat, their story will not be written in the history books. The majority of truly great men live and die in obscurity. I often think of Thomas Gray’s poem, Elegy in a Country Churchyard, about the nobility and worth of country folk. Living in Galway, I have rubbed shoulders with some of our nation’s best. For my part, it was the greatest honor to get to know them both. They were the epitome of manliness: strength welded to kindness. They were tough but tender. They were loyal not only to their country but to their wives, families, and their God. Semper fidelis! Always faithful! I have been blessed to know them.
They no longer gather in Galway Market. Joe died in January of 2003 and Martha went to live with her daughter in West Virginia. Jeanne died this June. Tom lives here in Galway, surrounded by family and friends. Outside of my father, I have learned the most to prepare me for life from Tom, my fellow elder in the church. God has blessed me in giving me a few good men as friends and mentors.
Be sure to thank a veteran, this Veterans’ Day!
Life in Galway, Fall 2010, Issue Two, Pages 8-9