Tomorrow will be my dad`s 101st birthday anniversary. Edwin J. Baldwin was born on March 1, 1907. This was the same year that "The Duke" John Wayne was born. My father, though small in stature at only 5` 6" tall, however, outlived the 6` 4" actor by some fourteen years. Wayne passed away in 1979; Dad went to Heaven in 1993.
Dad was born in the little village of Lake, Michigan, but moved with his parents to Little Rock, Arkansas when he was only an infant. His four brothers and sisters were all born and raised in Arkansas. Dad didn`t leave the state until just before I was born.
After WWII, Dad left Arkansas to look for work. He found it in a little town in Northern Indiana named La Porte. As a result, La Porte became his home. It was there that he lived the rest of his life; it was there that I was born.
The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, my dad and his two brothers, Bud and Gene, marched down to the recruiter`s office to sign up. Bud joined the Navy and served with distinction throughout the war. Gene joined the Marines and was wounded in the Pacific. However, when military officials saw Dad`s credentials (he was a master welder), they told him they wanted him to serve his country in another capacity. Subsequently, my father was selected to help construct the Atomic Bomb.
As with most of his generation, he was avidly patriotic. His love for this country never waned. This was revealed to me in a very interesting way just four months before his death.
I drove my mother and father from my home in Pensacola, Florida, to La Porte in October of 1992. Dad was nearly 86 years old. As we made that 800-mile trip along Interstate 65, I was intrigued at something Dad did: he saluted every American flag that he saw en route. Every single flag. I had never seen him do anything such as that before. Dad passed away four months later. That trip from Pensacola to La Porte was the last trip Dad made on this earth. I have never forgotten it. Did Dad have a premonition that on this trip he was saying good-bye to Old Glory and about to head out to Heaven`s Glory? I think so.
As previously mentioned, Dad was a master welder. He came from a long line of craftsmen. His father was a carpenter. His brother Bud was a master plumber, and his brother Gene was a grade one machinist. These were hard working, blue collar men that took great pride and personal satisfaction in the quality of their work.
As a tradesman, Dad was a loyal union man and Democrat. (Although I cannot imagine Dad supporting what the Democratic Party has become today.) I still have his Teamsters union pin and credentials. As a proud Southern Democrat, Dad could never find it in him to vote anything but a straight party ticket, although he did express grudging admiration for Ronald Reagan. Dad always respected honesty and courage in men, and he believed that Reagan demonstrated those qualities.
However, Dad`s most enduring legacy is his devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, for many years my father was an alcoholic. His addiction to alcohol cost him his first wife and almost cost him his life. When he was converted to Christ at the age of 40, his health was almost terminal.
After Dad gave his heart to the Lord, the bondage to alcohol was broken, and his health was restored. From the day he was saved until the day he passed away, my father never had a single drink. Not even a beer. Not one. That is more than 45 years of total sobriety.
By the way, if you or someone you know has a drinking problem, or lives with someone who has a drinking problem, you can obtain a free, cassette-taped (or CD), dramatic reenactment of my father`s life story that was produced by the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, Illinois, by going to my web site here.
After Dad`s conversion, he ministered in the La Porte County Jail and Indiana State Prison (ISP) in Michigan City, Indiana for the next 35 years as a volunteer chaplain. He won hundreds of men to Jesus Christ. My dad was the greatest personal soul winner that I have ever known, bar none.
Beyond that, my father had a special love in his heart for the souls of black men. He loved them, and they loved him in return. In fact, one black man that Dad won to Christ in ISP was a giant of a man. Standing 6`7`` tall and weighing 295 pounds of solid muscle, he made it his personal mission in life to keep Dad safe inside those prison walls. Anyone intent on doing my father harm (and many were) knew they would have to answer to "Tiny." And this no one dared to do.
Without a doubt, Dad`s honesty, courage, patriotism, work ethic, and devotion to Christ were the most important influence upon my life. I can only pray that I will be half the man he was and that the influence I have upon my children will be somewhat as honorable and lasting.