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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Remembering Walter Kmiec (1922-2010)

Oil portrait of the pater familias, circa 1974

  • Walter Kmiec, the fourth of the six children of Jan and Mariana Kmiec was born in Chicago on July 30, 1922 and baptised into the Roman Catholic faith;
  • Along with older siblings: Antoinette, John, Stephan and younger sisters Bernice and Wanda lived a comfortable, but not excessive, life; attended Chicago public schools together with religious instruction at St. Hedwig on Chicsgo's North side
  • Civilian Conservationist, 1940-42, Wisconsin and Nevada
  • B17 Flying Fortress Distinguished Flying Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, for 35 air battle campaigns, 1942-45, in general allied air defense of western Europe, including Normandy;
  • Husband of Beatrice Evelyn Neumann (60 years);
  • BSEE, Chicago Technical College, 1954
  • Father of Warren Walter Kmiec (b. 1947), Medical Administrator, University of Wisconsin (Madison);
  • Father of Douglas William Kmiec (b. 1951), U.S. Ambassador; Caruso Family Chair in Constitutional Law, Pepperdine University (on leave), Malibu, California; "Faith & Values" Campaign, Obama for President '08; former Head, Office of Legal Counsel to President Ronald Reagan; author and syndicated writer; 40th Anniversary Distinguished Fulbright Scholar, 1987, (Hong Kong & Kuala Lumpur); White House Fellow, 1982-83
  • Father-in-Law of Carolyn Keenan Kmiec, Weisman Art Museum (on leave); First Lady to the U.S. Ambassador
  • Grandfather of Keenan Douglas Kmiec (b.1979), Lawyer, Los Angeles, fmr. law clerk to Chief Justice John Roberts and Judges Samuel A. Alito, Jr. (3d Cir.) and David H. Sentelle (DC Cir)
  • Grandfather of Katherine Neumann Kmiec (b. 1981), Deputy Counsel, The County of Imperial, California; Mother of Great Grandson Robert Jackson Turner
  • Grandfather of Kiley Conley Kmiec (b. 1984), Director of Worldwide Music Marketing, EA Sports, Playa del Rey, California
  • Grandfather of Kolleen McCafferty Kmiec (b. 1988), Architectural Intern, AP Project, Valletta, European Union, Malta
  • Grandfather of Kloe Dillberg Kmiec (b. 1988), Manager, Specialty Leasing, Caruso Affiliates, The Grove, Los Angeles
  • Grandfather of Zachary Kmiec, Baltimore, Maryland
  • Grandfather of Amos Kmiec, Hawaii
  • Electrical Engineer, Chicago, 1954-79
  • Regular Democratic Organization (Party Captain; 1960 John F. Kennedy for President, Illinois; Six Mayoral Victories)
  • Retired, Tarpon Springs, Florida, 1979
  • Died May 20, 2010 at home in Tarpon Springs.

Oil portrait of Walter Kmiec, circa 1974

Walter Kmiec, 23, engineering student
In flight, B17, age 20

My Father’s Dreams

from "America" June 21, 2010

My father dreamed—even
when he was not asleep.
Scarcely a world problem
went unresolved in my father’s dreams,
and there was scarcely a powerful
political figure or captain of industry
whom my father did not readily let in
on his dreams through ample, handwritten

These dreams, as my father
dreamed them, created jobs, reduced
global warming, delivered health care
to the poor and the elderly and made
substantial headway on a cure for cancer—
all before lunch. Sadly, it turns
out the cancer cure still needs work.
But until that illness ravaged his physical
strength, my father communicated
his dreams freely, expecting neither
credit nor recognition. In fact, few of
his dreams were even acknowledged.
Neither Bill Clinton nor the Bushes
nor George Steinbrenner ever referred
to my father’s counsel.

My father
greatly admired the philanthropic and
disaster relief work of Bill Clinton as
an ex-president. But married to Mom
for 60 years, he was troubled and saddened
by President Clinton’s “fooling
around,” as Dad put it. Nevertheless,
as far as the world knew, President
Clinton decided to give greater honor
to his marital vows all on his own
without Dad’s note to him urging
fidelity and circumspection. Was it
Walter Mitty braggadocio for Dad to
take personal satisfaction in watching
the president “straighten out his act”?

Maybe to some, but Dad’s advice was
seldom just a repetition of the prevailing
headline. From the beginning, Dad
menting in a personal essay about continuing
military commitments, I will
let you draw your own inferences
about what Dad had to say. These thought the president deserved a private
conversation with his pastor, not
public impeachment.
Dad reached this
conclusion long
before much of the
nation—and later
the special prosecutor
himself—had second thoughts
about what many now see as a mistaken
use of prosecutorial authority.

Dad wrote the Bushes a lot.
Because ambassadors must avoid comwere
one-way conversations.
Putting to one side whether Dad
should get footnote
credit for much of
recent world history,
I found his life to
be an invaluable lesson
in political participation.
Especially salutary was his
firm belief that in our democracy it is
up to the regular guy—not just David
Brooks or Mark Shields or even Glenn
Beck or Bill O’Reilly—to demonstratean appreciation for freedom of speech.

Dad did not dream only politically,
either. With the skin-flinty corporate
owners of the Cubs keeping Chicago
out of World Series since well before
his birth, my father seldom hesitated
to let George Steinbrenner know how
his checkbook was “ruining the game”
of baseball. Steinbrenner didn’t take
the hint—if one can call a letter in all
caps, pressed hard on school notebook
paper a hint.

Most famous personages would
ignore my father’s dreams. Sometimes
the lack of response would perturb him.
After Mom passed away five years ago,
Dad felt even more intensely the loneliness
and separation shared by millions
of the elderly who had followed the sun,
far from their children and grandchildren,
in Buffalo, Philly, Detroit, St.
Louis and other rustbelt cities. Life for
young families today is two-income
busy, and any time left to share dreams
with seniors is but a truncated add-on
to Disneyworld or Busch Gardens or
Christmas visits sandwiched into the
lines of holiday travel.

Dad did discover, however, a way to
open the minds of others to his
dreams. By sending $5 or $10 to a
growing list of charities, he shared
widely not only his dreams, but his
poetry, songs and inspirational
prayers. In return, gratitude, for the
money at least, would flow in abundance
to his numbered mailbox at the
trailer park where he lived. Bulk mail
would overtax the “mail lady,” for
whom my father made dutiful expressions
of empathy. Mother Nature
appeared to follow Dad’s lead, matching
his philanthropy for disaster victims
with an increased frequency of
earthquakes, tsunamis and airport closing

Often my father cleaned out his
closets—removing baseball caps, shirts
and years of accumulated Father’s Day
stuff he was too nice to say didn’t fit.
Driving into his neighborhood, one
would encounter many poor childrenand their parents wearing his Ralph Lauren shirts with their tattered jeans,
not to mention a disproportionate
number of Notre Dame and Cubs’
fans, to judge by the caps.

My father was a lifelong Democrat,
the workingman’s party, and he
thought highly of President Obama’s
experience as a community organizer.
“Tell the president,” Dad would insist
(as if Barack and I ate breakfast together
every morning), “that he needs to
direct every dime he can to jobs.”

My father understood intimately
the dignity of work and the indignity
of foreclosure. Vivid in his memory
was the sight of his own mother pleading
with the sheriff, during a notorious
Chicago thunderstorm, not to toss the
family’s furniture and the six Kmiec
children into the street. That was after
the crash of 1929. In a brief autobiography
inspired by Tom Brokaw’s book,
The Greatest Generation, my father
described how his “mother was crying
so hard,” he couldn’t “differentiate her
tears from the driving rain and her
sobs from the relentless thunder.”

Until the financial collapse of
September 2008, many smugly
assumed that nothing like the Great
Depression could happen again. We
know better now, though the present
economic pain has been more unevenly
felt than it was in the 1930s, when
10 million were put out of work.
In a similar way, this generation’s
experience with military matters is
more ambivalent in light of the attacks
on Sept. 11 and the tragically executed
Iraq war. An all-volunteer force immunizes
many from the costs of war and
thatmay plague us with an insufficient
strategic assessment. By contrast, my
father’s generation faced military service
as an “enlist or be drafted” proposition.
After he enlisted in the U.S.
Army Air Forces, the B-17 Flying
Fortress bomber made real Dad’s
heroic dreams as he played his part in
the unambiguous good of stopping the
Holocaust. The military also gave him
three squares at a time when he was
just plain hungry.

It is less clear that fighting the shadowy,
highly mobile, not easily understood
Al Qaeda conveys a comparably
noble feeling. It should, so long as it
shares with my father’s military service
the need for vigilance against the common
enemies of all good dreams—ethnic
or racial hatred, poverty and the
pernicious misuse of religion to slaughterthe innocent in the name of God.

The name Kmiec is of Polish origin,
and the small farming village from
which my father’s father emigrated is
not far from Oswiecim (Auschwitz).
My father knew what a genuine war
crime looked like, whether perpetrated
near his ancestral home or in New
York, Washington and Pennsylvania
by 19 men in possession of commandeered
jets and lacking respect for the
sanctity of human life.

My father died a few weeks ago in
home hospice care in Florida. To both
his sons at his side the Father’s Day
lesson is inescapable: As we check our
voice mails, BlackBerries and inboxes,
let us not be too busy to notice all
those who, like my father, freely give of
their dreams. By the Cross and
Resurrection, Christ offers us a vision
of unconditional love. The dreams of
men are frequently their Christ-like
offers of love. We can’t lose in taking
them up. Why? Listen to my father’s
voice, now fallen silent but forever
clearly heard by the family and friends
who took the time to share his dreams:
“because we have faith, courage and

With those qualities, Dad, we are
confident your dreams of eternity are
being fulfilled.