NORMAN — Thomas J. Bedford died around 11 p.m. Thursday. He would have been 95 this April. Most of us who got to know him over coffee at the local YMCA, and listened to his many stories, called him Jack or Tom. He answered to both. It didn’t matter as long as someone sat with him, sipped a cup of coffee and let him talk. Being at the Y where he could socialize to his friends was the highlight of his final days.
To many who didn’t know him, Jack was an old codger from the veterans home, confined to a wheel chair in the final months of his life, who liked to relive his past, and when he’d repeat some of them, we’d sit and listen respectfully.
Many people who walked by never gave him a second glance. He was just another old man in faded jeans, a loose windbreaker and a well-worn military cap, speaking in a weak, rasping voice. But oh, what they missed by not sharing time with Jack.
He was born in Alabama and grew up on a farm. Learning the lessons of hard work, he was fast at picking cotton and he walked three miles to school. Jack entered Auburn University with only $25. He worked part-time jobs to remain there.
Short of graduation, Jack passed the test to become a one-year student at the Naval Academy, where his class underwent instruction and testing to qualify them for duty in the Navy. Incidentally, he told me that he sank like a rock to the bottom of the pool at his swimming trial. A career Navy officer who never did learn to swim.
He was assigned to submarines — according to him, a dirty, smelly, stifling hot or very cold and noisy, cramped duty. In Jack’s words, “We got to know each other very well.”