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Born a Texan, but traveled the US extensively.  Now staying on the East coast.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Father – a remembrance

Joseph E. Kuntz Sr.

He was born in 1920, March 18.
The date itself sounds so impartial, but he was born shortly after the “Great” war in the French province of Alsace.  So the time was a time of great hope that the insanity of war would not come again.
The location was at on Farm some 50 miles from Strasbourg, France and is the capital of Alsace.
And so the location was a place that had witnessed first hand the ravages of the “Great” war.
Both the Germans and the French claimed the location, but the Alsatians preferred to be called French.
The mannerisms, the food and drink of the Alsatians were typically German.
In school he was taught French, German and English and apparently master them easily.
At 15 he got his pilots license and went to a technical school to become an engineer.
Soon, of course, a dark cloud rose and World War II began.
Apparently, propaganda people approached my dad because “he looked German”. 
He was not interested and rather was recruited by British Secret intelligence and became a spy.
He was captured twice and escaped twice; both times he escaped into Switzerland.
The first time he was imprisoned with a Russian Soldier and learned the Russian language.
After his second escape he was asked to go back a third time, but would not because he had been given up by neighbors in Alsace and it would have meant dire consciences for his family.
He made his way through the south of France and over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain.
He quickly picked up Spanish and became completely disgusted with the Catholic Church, who was aiding Franco against rebels in Spain.
He spent some 6 months with a family in the south of Spain (Moorish), who treated him well.
It was at this point he felt he needed to rejoin the French fighting in North Africa and travel to Portugal (learning Portuguese along the way) and traveling by boat to North Africa where he meet up with the Free French Air Force,
The equipment was old and he flew a Spade biplane with twin 50 caliber machine guns.  That is what they had.
He never spoke much of the war or fighting or the things he had seen.
Rather he spoke more of the comradely of the French pilots, the food (a favorite was raw liver, soaked and marinated in red wine, raw garlic chopped and raw onions and I have never tried it), his disgust with the clergy of the Catholic Church, the anger at his neighbors and the peace he had for a short time with the Spanish family and their daughter (no details were ever given).
Some time in 1944 he came over to the United States to train on more modern aircraft.
While he was training, the war ended.
Because of what happened to him in France (being given up by neighbors), he resolved never to go back to France and moved to Washington D.C and worked with the French Consulate mostly because his aptitude and skill with languages was so good.
He resolved to become a United States citizen and had a Senator sponsor him.
The requirements at that time and because he was living here and working with the French consulate, were that he had to live outside the country and apply to come back in.
He chose Cuba and for 6 months lived in Havana.  There is one story he told of being in a cantina where a group of 5 Cubans were talking (in Spanish, of course) about how they were going to rob him after he left because he was obviously a foreigner.
Of course he understood every word and he was in his French military garb (including hand gun) and dissuaded them of their plan in perfect Spanish before he left. According to him, the pistol helped a bit.
He did talk of terrible poverty and corruption in Cuba at the time and was glad to leave.
Sometime after he returned to Washington DC, he started working as a jeweler and he married an Argentinean woman.  This and a few other things in his life, I only found out after his death.
The woman left him and went back to Argentina.
It was shortly after this he met my mom, who was working as a nurse in Washington DC.
They married and decided that Houston, Texas was the place that was “up and coming” and moved there.
He thought it was either Houston or Los Angeles, he chose Houston.
I was born a year later in 1954.
The issue of living n Houston was not as easy as he had hoped.
My parents bought a home on the western part of the city, one block from the city line.
With his education he procured employment at an industrial manufacturing plant as an engineering estimator.  That meant that he would determine the cost of the materials to do a job.
The company was very diverse so over the course of the years, he worked on specifications from submarines to Nuclear power plants.
His struggle was a difficult one, as fluent as he was in English; he had an obvious accent and was severely discriminated against as a “foreigner”, which at that time in Texas seemed worse than being a “northerner”.
He worked hard and we lived comfortably.
My best memories of him were his love of all of the outdoors.  He loved to be outdoors, camping, fishing and hunting, but he was very “old school” which meant that he had great respect for animals.
When he hunted or fished, he took only what he would use and he used as much of an animal as was possible.  There was no sports hunting, it was for food and to be outdoors.
He had no fear of animals and his best hunting was done with a camera.  Pictures of a moose from only a few yards away, pictures of him petting an old Bison, who was every bit the giant still.
We traveled when we could, Galveston every weekend I the summer, Big Bend national Park riding horseback, fishing in the early morning from an ice feed stream in New Mexico, camping in Yellowstone and Glacier national Parks.
Our cat caught and brought home live baby quail and he raised them, not to eat, but to have in a large outdoor cage.  We had a Horned toad and a red-eared terrapin turtle that stayed in the yard.  The squirrels came to him for food from his hand.
With that, I remember his gentleness most.  His frustrations and rage at life were less important because they were not directed at my mother or me.
When he retired, he and my mom moved to Colorado, to a small community in a very rural area.
For the last 13 years of his life he was where he wanted to be the most.
He lived life large and was concerned because he was slowing down, but before he did slow down, he was stopped suddenly in a moment.  Tho it was hard for my mother and I, it was best, for he lived a life fully to the end and had no suffering.
This is my remembrance of him on the anniversary of his birth many, many years ago.
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