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A Tribute to a Western Legend

cowboy story utah legend WWII Veteran

tribute to a western legend

Memories of a Western Legend 

I've been wanting to write stories about the amazing men and women of the desert west that have made an impact on our lives. I started this post for Dean a while back and realized today on Veteran's Day 2019 is the perfect day to post it because not only was he a western legend, he was also a World War II vet and I can't think of a better day to honor him and thank him for his service. 

A Cowboy and a Soldier

My husband and I used to own a Cafe in our past life. I ran the front end for almost a decade, and he managed the kitchen with his brother for longer than that. It was an experience we wouldn't replace but it was also very hard. It changed the fibers of his family in so many ways, but it also introduced us to the most amazing people who we were fortunate to call friends and feed on a daily basis.
One of our best customers was Dean, a true western legend. If Dean knew I called him that he'd say "Girl..." and look at me like I was crazy under the brim of his cowboy hat. 
Dean would come in every morning for a cup of coffee. His table was right next to the kitchen and if anyone else sat there before he showed up in his old Ford pickup truck, we'd exchange bewildered glances across the dining room. It seems like I might have gotten to the point where I put a "Reserved for Dean" card on the table just to make sure a new customer wouldn't be tempted to take his table. Unless we had an extremely busy day, Dean was usually the only person to sit at that little "2 top" table. 
Dean always wore blue jeans, an old western long sleeve shirt, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. And he always had a toothpick to chew on. Every day. I don't think I ever once saw him in a t-shirt, but I vaguely remember him coming in for dinner once with his wife Doris in his Sunday suit. 
western legend stories
Dean and I had a lot of good talks. He told me about growing up on a Reservation in northern Utah, about driving truck all over the western U.S., working for a local rancher feeding his cattle, and every once in a while, he would talk about his time as a Marine during World War II. 

Stories of World War 2

There aren't a lot of memories in my life that I regret and wish I could go back and change something I said, but one conversation I had with Dean will be etched in my mind forever. 

Dean fought in the Battle of Okinawa, April 1, 1945. I didn't know it at the time, but his family later told me he wouldn't talk about the war. However, every once in a while, if we weren't too busy and I had time to hang out at his table, Dean would tell me stories. 
This particular day, Dean started talking about his bad knee. He walked with a limp and would complain about his knee and how hard it is to ride horses and take care of cattle with a bad knee. I believe it was April Fool's day that particular year. Dean made mention that it was the same day his boat landed in Japan and how he was fighting on the beaches of Okinawa and he took shrapnel in his knee and that's why he walked with a limp. I was so dumb and clueless and made a stupid remark about how it must have been quite the April Fool's joke all those years ago...I can't really remember and it just makes me want to crawl in a hole even thinking about it.
I'll never forget Dean's reaction...pointing his finger at me and looking me directly in the eyes. He told me "A lot of men lost their lives that day and it was no joke." I'll never forget this conversation. I have never felt so bad for saying words. It changed my entire outlook on veterans, on war, on soldiers. On myself. And on Dean. He wasn't afraid to put me in my place, which I am extremely grateful for.  Respect is earned and learned and although my parents did their best to teach me to respect my elders, Dean taught me a valuable lesson that day in consciously showing respect to people. I think we have the power to change the world by showing everyone, including ourselves, respect. 
My entire relationship with Dean changed that day and I am so grateful he trusted me enough to talk to me about painful memories of his past. 

Respect, Hard Work, Loyalty

I wish I had spent more time with Dean. He led the most fascinating life, even though I'm sure he didn't think he did. My husband and his brother had to part ways in the business and when we left the restaurant, we didn't keep in touch with Dean very well. I'd see him every once in a while around town, and then next I heard he was sick and had passed away shortly after. You can read his obituary here. It doesn't elaborate a lot on his life, but I'm sure that's what Dean wanted. He was so humble and didn't like attention, like most old cowboys. 
I just wanted to take a moment and thank him for teaching me so much about respect and hard work and loyalty. He was so loyal to our business and I'm not sure we deserved it. He made a difference in the world.  He worked harder than anyone I knew. He taught me not to be afraid to stand up for what is right. I have so many other great memories and stories about Dean, too many to write about here.

Share A Story And Carry On A Legend

I would really love to hear stories in the comments about legends you've had the privilege of knowing. What did they teach you? How did they change your life or the lives of those around them? I strongly believe it is vital for our heritage and so important to keep their memories alive and strong and to share their stories for future generations. 
veteran memory quote
Next time you stop by a cafe for a cup of coffee, drink a cup for Dean and think about an old cowboy who made his mark on the world by living an honorable life. 


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  • Mary Russell on

    You had me in tears, Anna. So many memories and when you said what you did about joking about what happened to Dean on April Fool’s Day. I’ve said things I regret so much as well and know how you felt.
    I know you all respected and thought the world of Dean and I think it was neat he had his very own, personal table at “The Grille”. Love you. This was a wonderful story!


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