Jack Guckes traveled the world in more than 22 years with the Navy.
His oldest daughter, Dee Fagan, can count 16 schools she went to as a “Navy brat,” following her dad from Florida to Japan and points between. And she was around for just the last 10 or so years of his Navy days.
“My dad sailed for most of his life,” said Fagan, of Mays Landing, who knows she never had the full picture of his naval career, and has been realizing that even more since he died last month, at 86.
Fagan and her two sisters know he grew up in Philadelphia and retired to Somers Point, in part because his wife and their mom, the former Dorothy Kelly, had family in the town.
In between, Jack served his country for at least parts of three wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam — and his family is trying to piece together what he did there. But he didn’t always make it easy for them.
“We found out at his funeral that he was apparently on a ship that was bombed,” said his middle daughter, Kim Goebel, of Willow Grove, Pa. “He was blown off the ship into the water, and he was in a coma for five days. We never knew that.”
When Jack retired from the Navy, as a chief petty officer, he went from a base in Japan to being parts manager for a South Jersey car dealership. Fagan said he was a supply officer late in his Navy career, so the work was similar, even if the return to civilian life in America was a culture shock.
Later, Jack would go on to be a Somers Point police dispatcher. His daughters heard the story of him being blasted off his ship from a friend Jack told it to on an overnight shift as a dispatcher.
“He would tell us the sweet, funny stories that wouldn’t scare us,” Fagan said. “But he wouldn’t tell us the bad things.”
And the daughters can’t ask their mother — she died in 2007.
Shortly after he returned to America, Jack joined Somers Point Volunteer Fire Company No. 2. He spent 31 years as a member and 11 years as president, said his nephew and colleague, Jim Guckes.
Jim said almost nobody around the firehouse ever called Jack by his real name. Instead, he was “Uncle Jack.”
“I always called him that,” said Jim, 63. “And I guess out of respect, everybody called him that.”
Jim saw Uncle Jack in action both as a firefighter and as a dispatcher, and said he was good in both roles — “cool under fire, accurate and knowledgeable.”
The fire company gave Uncle Jack a firefighter’s burial, including a firetruck escort to the cemetery and a “last call” over the radio, his nephew said.
But Jack wasn’t just a firefighter. Goebel said her dad’s last request was a military funeral, and he was buried in his old Navy dress uniform.
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