Whenever Memorial Day comes around again, I am always reminded about how lucky I am that my father came home from the war. I know people whose dads didn’t come home (from World War 2 like my father) or other wars like Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It doesn’t matter where they died or even how – they just never came back through the door. That sullen fact is what changed the lives of their families irrevocably.
Dad always noted how fortunate he was to have survived. Some of his fellow soldiers did not, and he never really wanted to talk about the horrors he saw over there. When asked a question about combat or what he witnessed, Dad stared off into space beyond the window. I imagined that he could see the carnage about which he never wanted to speak. His silence – eerie, deep silence – told me all that I needed to know.
Dad did speak about one story – his young neighbor John – who had been drafted and sent over to fight for his country. John was a few years younger than Dad, and he only learned that John had been sent overseas when my grandmother wrote to him. In a subsequent letter, Nana told my Dad that John had been killed. John’s mother asked Nana if my father could take a picture of the grave because she wanted to see for herself that John was really dead.
Dad did some searching and found out where John was buried, and he and a buddy took a Jeep and went out to get the picture. This picture is always unsettling for me, not because my Dad looks so young and healthy, but due to the expression on his face. He used to get the same expression when he would stare out the window when asked about the war. The solemnity just seemed so overwhelming.
Poor Mrs. O’Hara got what she asked for, wailing so loudly when she opened the letter that Nana could hear her next door. The poor woman couldn’t believe John had died until she had ocular proof, and upon receiving it she was forced to accept it in an excruciating fashion.
Dad said that John’s death haunted her for the rest of her life, but she went on for the sake of her husband and other children. How many times could this story be multiplied? How many mothers wailed, fathers moaned, siblings grieved, and wives and children sobbed endless tears? Not just in this war but in all the wars. The ultimate sacrifice doesn’t just end that person’s life but forever alters the lives of everyone who loved and knew them.
How different would Mrs. O’Hara’s life have been if she never got that letter? If one day after the war John walked through the front door? What could he have been in his life? What could he have become? What about the wife he would marry and the children they would have?
I have also thought about the scenario of my father not coming home. How that would have affected Nana and the rest of Dad’s family. How I would never have been born, and all the people that I know and love would have never known me, including my children who would never have been born either. Thinking about it always shakes me because I’d rather not think about it.
The truth is that we can never understand the profundity of sacrifice these brave souls made for their families and all other families. Their politics doesn’t matter. Their religion and race do not matter. They put their self interests aside to put the interests of all Americans first. How do we say thank you for such bravery and dedication? There is one definite way to do so – celebrate Memorial Day!
Memorial Day is a day to remember all those lost in service to their country. Last year because of the virus, there were no formal parades, but this year parades will be back in cities and towns all across America. If you can, get out and support those who are marching and were lucky enough to come home.
My Dad marched in our local Memorial Day parade for many years, usually dressed as Uncle Sam. It was a proud moment for me as a kid, but I also saw all those people who were my Dad’s friends marching alongside him. I knew them and I knew their kids. We were the lucky ones. We all had dads to play ball with us, to teach us to ride a bike, to take us to a ballgame, and to be there when we needed their help. Yes, we were the lucky ones, but I often think of the unlucky ones and am so appreciative that my Dad came home.
Dad is gone now, but as I watch our local parade tomorrow, he will be with me in spirit. All of the men and women who served in the Armed Forces who have passed on – whether in battle or in old age at home – will be there in the towns and cities where they once lived. Those lost will be especially watching, hoping that their sacrifice will be remembered. This year, let’s not disappoint them.