ED Lattig 1934-2019 RIP
For a man who left the world this week with every earthly possession one could hope to own, you may think he had lived a charmed life and is one of those who just stepped into wealth and love passed down from his family.
The story of Edward Charles Lattig is anything but that.
I will tell you about the journey of a man who came from having literally nothing, nearly on the streets of New Jersey to later in life walking the halls of the United States Pentagon.
You see "Ed" or "Eddy" as he was called by friends and family was born in February of 1934, to Charles and Maria Lattig in Newark New Jersey, He was the youngest of the family with an older brother in his 20's and two sisters in their teens.
Eddy's mother Maria came to America when she was only 16, scared and alone she made her way through Ellis Island where a cruel immigration official, wrote "Tamale" on her entry papers instead of her maiden name of "Famale", She hailed from a region in Northern Italy near the Swiss Border which goes by the same name, no doubt settled by ancestors thousands of years ago.
Once in America, she began factory work like so many immigrants did back then, hard work, long hours and low wages.
During this time she met and fell in love with Charles Lattig who was a manager at a nearby factory and they were married.
A son was born, then two daughters and eventually Eddy.
Eddy's greatest memory was going to watch baseball with his father, an avid fan and they would sit in the stands, a man in his 30's and little 6-year-old Eddy watching either the New Jersey_______ or the ____.
He was in pure heaven as his Dad took the time to explain the game to him as they ate hot dogs and sipped on soda.
Eddy said later his Father did not have much patience with him and would explain things only a few times and no more, Eddy was a smart kid and knew once something was presented to you, you had to comprehend as there weren't a lot of chances for a follow up. This taught him patience.
Eddy's father had big plans for him to be a musician. Around 6-years-old his father pooled the family money, bought him a sailor suit, an accordion and a few lessons, Keep in mind the Country was still in the midst of recovering from the Great Depression and families at that time used every penny for clothing and food.
Eddy did not disappoint. At a local talent show less than 4 months later, with his two sisters and brother, mother and father on hand, he took to the stage, stepping out in front of hundreds.
As he performed the song "Pennies from Heaven", and sang while playing the accordion in his cracker jack sailor suit, the crowd erupted into cheers and began to throw silver dollars on the stage. While Eddy did not win, the money he earned in that one performance as a little boy not only paid back his Dad's investment, it provided food for the family for several weeks.
When Eddy was 12, he had already put the accordion down, virtually ending his career in music and was more interested in playing streetball, and basketball. He was still attending the minor league games, but by himself, his father was spending more time at work and less time at home.
His father came home one day and told the family he had fallen in love with another woman and was leaving. This as you can imagine hurt the entire family and of course crippled the little income they had at the time. His mother Maria, was devastated and was working in a factory where Christmas ornaments were made. She began to work double shifts to help support her family. The sisters, brother and Eddy all kicked in to make ends meet. Eddy stood on the corner and shined shoes for about a dime a pair after school. When he came home he tossed what little money he had made into a jar on the kitchen table, like his older siblings and mother did as well, so they could buy food and clothing.
Eddy always said "every cent counts" and learned this from those days during World War II. While times appeared dark and he was missing his father, Eddy did manage to have a good time now and then calling outside to the family Irish Setter and then jumping on the poor dog from the open den window, trying to ride him like a horse as he played cowboys and Indians.
What little money he had left over, he'd buy bubble gum baseball cards, or a Buck Rogers secret decoder ring, even saving box-tops from Wheaties for months to get that one cool whistle or compass.
He also loved Italian food which his Mom would cook from family recipes. He learned about Catholicism, attending catholic schools and learned to write right handed. Born left handed the Nuns would slap his hands until he wrote with his right.
He loved radio programming and would listen to all the shows at night but laughed aloud at Amos and Andy and the comedians that would tell jokes on various programs. This is where he developed his sense of humor which he carried with him for life, using it not only to laugh but to break down barriers and counsel hundreds of young sailors in the US Navy. He also loved the music of this era as well.
Eddy was nearing 16, and one summer day, his mother Maria who had seemed extremely tired and gaunt from years of working double factory shifts notified the family she had cancer. A few months later she was gone, leaving Eddy to basically fend for himself as his older siblings had moved on with life. His sisters had married Sailors in the US Navy and his Brother had his own life working in factories.
After his Mom's passing, the Sears Roebuck and Company house they lived in was sold, Eddy went to live first with one sister and then another. During this time he took a job at a local dairy where he would check levels in products to make sure they were safe. This is where Eddy learned to be precise and exact with no room for error.
The owner of the Dairy was a nice man who had a son at home, Eddy's age. He took Eddy under his wing, would throw the ball with him, give him advice and kept him on the straight and narrow.
Eddy was a fatherless, motherless teenager walking the streets of Newark with fellow Italian kids, some of whom were headed towards the mafia but the man recognized Eddy had a lot to offer the world.
Eddy was a sophomore in High School and was getting fair grades but the man told him he needed to buckle down and start pulling in A's if he was going to go to College. Eddy listened to the man spending hours working at math, science and reading. This is where Eddy learned the importance of an education.
Eddy's grades rose dramatically and was a straight A student Junior and Senior year. His friend at the Dairy helped him apply to the New York State Maritime College, and there was a slim chance he could get a scholarship. The man told him if he got it, he could have a career in the Merchant Marine or US Navy.
Eddy was awarded the scholarship but despite scorn from his two brother-in-laws who were Navy enlisted guys, Eddy forged forward in his freshman year. This is where Eddy learned to ignore detractors and his "keep your chin up", a message he would repeatedly repeat years later to his son Derik.
He left for College in 1952 with little fanfare and was at the mercy of older cadets who had certain rituals for plebe freshman. He spent hours outside of his classes scrubbing toilets, ironing upper classmen's uniforms or working in the kitchen.
Remember Eddy was here on a scholarship which only paid for the basics. He could not go into New York with his classmates on the weekends as some had allowances. He began a side business on top of all of this where he would make sandwiches and sell them for 25 cents each. He picked up another name here, the older classmates called him "The Lat" and they would anxiously await his delicious sandwiches while taking a study break. This is where Eddy learned the importance of saving money and entrepreneurship.
When summer rolled around that first year, the classes did not end, The Cadets boarded the school ship and would man it along with the older cadets.They'd apply what they had learned in class on the high seas. Like learning to sail the ship by the stars as the ancient mariners did, operate the engines, steer the ship into port and learn hand and flag signals to communicate with other ships.
One test had over 200 flag movements that had to be done in less than 10 minutes, If you missed one signal, you failed and were sent to scrub the toilets or worse. Lives depended on these signals back in the day, the wrong flag movement could send the ship into a pier or another vessel. This is where Eddy learned perfection and getting it right the first time.
As you can imagine, this isn't the life many college aged students would want to live. Being hazed constantly by older classmates, having to maintain a B average and no break in the school year, Many in Eddy's class would wash out that first year and in the years to follow. This is where Eddy learned perseverance and got his "never say never" attitude.
As Eddy became an upper classman, life got slightly better. He enjoyed the summer cruises more and more and working with the younger cadets. This is when Eddy became a mariner and learned to be kind.
Graduation rolled around and Eddy was one of 100 who graduated. The class started with over 200 just 4 years before. He had a choice upon getting his Coast Guard First Mate license, he could enter the Merchant Marine service or the US Navy. He decided to join the Navy and after a one shot only 3-day test, he received a commission as an Ensign.
Anxious to put what he learned in school to use, he was an efficient young Officer, keeping logs aboard the destroyer, participating in maneuvers and making sure his Destroyer the "Shell Drake" was the best in the fleet.
There was an underlying competition among the ships and Eddy's Captain was proud of him, It was during this time he did a perfect three point landing for lack of better terms, guiding the ship into a slim docking area without hitting tires on each side of the pier. His efforts were recognized by Admirals and fleet Commanders and within a few short years he rose to the rank of Lieutenant, amazing some of his peers. This is where Eddy learned hard work eventually pays off.
Eddy had a lot of great experiences during this time, whether it be training young a German Navy crew which had a former U-boat skipper to dropping off scientists to monitor the Soviets on a secluded island in the Bahamas. To get to the drop off zone Eddy, 4 sailors and the scientist had to negate a slim waterway in a 40 foot long whale boat while slowly motoring over dozens of sleeping sharks which could be seen just a few feet below the boat. This is where Eddy learned to keep his cool under pressure and to be a leader, reassuring the worried crew it was no big deal.
Following his first deployment Eddy was invited to a party in New York. He attended and saw the woman of his dreams, a young Doris Day look alike with a Texas accent. She didn't pay much attention to him but they went on an adventure that night with the rest of the party, grabbing lamps, pots, pans and other items left in a building with demolition scheduled. He laughed with her and one date led to another and they became engaged. This is where Eddy learned Love.
Eddy would be assigned to numerous ships over the years, including working as Commanding Officer for the USS Sanctuary Hospital Ship stationed off the coast of Viet Nam. Eddy would leave the bridge and go sit and visit with wounded marines and solders, hearing where they were from and providing hope.
As the years would pass, he and Sue would have a child together. The couple loved each other and missed each whether Eddy's assignments took him off the Coast of Asia or deep into the Indian Ocean for months at a time. This is where Eddy learned loneliness and heartbreak.
So, after 20 years of service, with everything in order to become a Captain, Eddy now a Commander disregarded urges from Admirals to stay in the Navy. He politely declined and Eddy retired after 20 years to spend time with his family. This is when Eddy truly decided to put family over career and leave a job he loved, to be with his small family which he cared for and loved. This is when Eddy honed his skills as Husband and Dad.
Over the years, Eddy would put everything he learned in life into play, hard-work, perseverance, kindness, the never say never attitude, caring for family and others, humor, all to help him with 3 businesses. These would also come in handy later in life spending countless hours and years taking care of the love of his life Sue.
When Sue passed this past Spring, Eddy now a tired, 85-year-old, knew he wasn't running on full cylinders, but continued his fatherly talks with his grown son Derik daily, telling jokes to his caregivers and being kind to those he met on his now limited travels.
After years of putting everyone else before him, and traveling around the world, he began to prepare for his next journey. The voyage into God's kingdom. He left behind a perfectly clean and orderly house, detailed instructions on his personal matters, Christmas presents under a tree, even getting a hair cut just last week.
While we can't go with Eddy on his final voyage, we know one thing, the world is a better place because of him and his love for God, Family and Country.
May the wind be at your back Commander Ed Lattig, a grateful family and nation salutes you.