The Last Someday ~ A Memorial

I’ve been thinking a lot about that villanous word – Someday

… about how I let it rob me and what I am going to do about it.

… about my parents as they face major change.  As Mom said the other day, “he just thought this would never end”.

I imagine these soldiers thought ~ someday I will be home… marry her… finish school… buy a home.

Arlington National Cemetary

Was someday supposed to end like this?  Really?

I’ve been to D.C. many times over the years, but last year was my first visit to the WWII Memorial.

We found my Dad’s name on the list of Honorees…

…there he is…  Robert H. Jamison – Seattle, Washington – U.S. Army

He was a lucky one.  He came home and pursued his somedays.  And like most of us… he let a lot of them go.

These Gold Stars… each one represents 100 American service personnel lost in WWII.  There are 4,048 gold stars on the wall.

A lot of somedays never realized.

To the lives each star represents, to the moms and pops and sweethearts who answered the knock at the door, the sons and daughters they never knew… my deepest and forever thank you.

To those of us living in a land bought and paid for by unimaginable sacrifice… how can we do less than live each day to the full?

I suspect the best thanks is to live the life you were created for.

Gold Star Wall – WWII Memorial

Ties that Bind …. God, Family, Country

This morning I was searching for a quote related to soldiers and somehow ended up HERE…..good reading.

An interesting article by Eric Hartley of the Capital Gazette, Maryland, recounts the story of a man who found a letter written by his great-great-grandmother, Esther Thayer, stuck in the back of an old pocket Bible.

The Bible was carried  by James Thayer, one of two brothers, who left their home in Maine to serve in the Civil War.  James was killed June 1863 in Cold Harbor, Virginia.  The Bible was rescued by a confederate soldier who gave it to a union soldier and eventually returned to Esther.  I love stories like that.

picture by Eric Hartley - The Capital

During March, when Doug and I were on the east coast, I wrote a bit about Civil War sites we visited here and here.  It wasn’t our first visit, nor will it be the last… can’t seem to get enough of our nation’s history.  And as always, it’s the personal stories I’m searching for.

How did a mother cope with war during that era?  What about my grandmother during WWII?  I have my own experience to draw from, but it’s hard to put in a neat little package.

Esther Thayer’s letter, written after war’s end, is sweet and insightful…..

 “I am thinking of my soldier boys.  I am thinking of the time I parted from them and can almost feel their warm breath on my cheek as I took my leave of them.  I commended them to the One whom I knew neither slumbered nor slept.

     I feel a just pride when I think I had sons that were brave enough to face death in defense of their country’s rights.  And from year to year the soldiers are more and more honored as flowers are strewn on their silent dust.  They deserve that gift.  Although your brother lies in an unknown grave, I feel the kind winds of heaven will waft its gentle breezes over his sleeping dust and the fragrance of beautiful flowers will fall kindly around the sacred spot.

     It is becoming an honor to be a son of a veteran.  God bless the old soldiers and their sons.  Memorial Day is a most solemn day to me.  It brings back to me the forms and faces that I shall see no more on earth.” 

She had me at “I commended them to the One”………..

What Memorial Day Looks Like…..to me

On 23 April 2007, a young Oregon soldier was killed along with 8 others from his 82nd Airborne unit.  His father reached out to Doug shortly after being notified by the army.  They were casual acquaintances thru work…their shared military experiences and those of our sons had created a bond.

Over the next few weeks we watched this heartbreaking story unfold.  We hurt for them, but couldn’t help think of our own as Andrew prepared to leave for his 2nd tour of duty and David wasn’t far behind with his 3rd.

Until this event I coped with deployments by ignoring the “one bad thing”.  But the “one bad thing” is no respecter of persons.  When it hits this close to home it’s impossible to ignore………and impossible to accept.

I’ve focused this week on war and loss and Memorial Day, not to be depress, but to remember.

I don’t like it…. but the reality is most Americans, generally speaking, don’t spend one second thinking of our men and women in uniform unless related or touched in some unique way.

I am compelled to show my love and respect ….and in my own way, keep the flag flying.  It’s the least I can do for those special few who stand guard for all of us.

 

What Memorial Day Feels Like….to me

Waves roll gentle ….water, sky and sand swirl together like an iridescent pearl.

Hundreds are gathered, flags ripple in the breeze…. and truth be told, I don’t want to be here.  I don’t want to be this close to death.

Fifty, maybe sixty Patriot Guard riders park their motorcycles and stand shoulder to shoulder along both sides of the highway.  The escort riders appear, leading the procession of vehicles carrying the soldier’s family to water’s edge.

The father, in uniform, is a disabled veteran from the first gulf war.  His eyes are set like steel in his warrior’s face.  I am well acquainted with the warrior face and it always says the same thing  …. “I will stand …I will press on”.  How do you stand through this?  We are here to support him …yet he’s the one shaking hands, giving hugs, thanking folks for coming.  He is brave.  Could I be this brave ….if I had to?

And I hate to admit this, but I can’t look into the mother’s eyes.  Just her physical presence brings the crushing grief of losing a child into full view.  Not just a child…. her only child.  I refuse to consider her experience could ever be mine.  Not my sons, no, not ever.  And then I feel selfish and ashamed, relieved and sad all in one big crying mess…. I’m glad the sun is setting.

These soldier parents settle into the spot prepared for them.  Their pastor prays…. a guitarist plays.  This crowd I’m swallowed up in….this odd assortment of strangers, family and friends… has become a sea of flickering candlelight.

The Patriot Guard do what they do best… close ranks around us and seal off the entry point to the beach.

Bikers and flags… sea, sand and sky …wrap around like a blanket…  this gathering of community….. struggling to say goodbye to a soldier son.

Counting Them Home

David's house ~ Fayetteville 2004

Calendars and clocks were no use to me…at least not until the very end.  And even then there is no civilian who can compete with the Army’s time table.

The days of sons deployed …. these were counted in missed Christmases and birthdays… in breaking news stories I didn’t want to watch but couldn’t help myself.  They were counted in quiet morning time and no sleep nights.

The rare phone call was captured in the notebook by the phone …. mostly filled with my scribbled doodles as my heart listened for the heart on the other end.  Words weren’t necessarily necessary.

Brothers’ weddings, a death and births marked time…. while two shuttled between ~ Home ~ Afghanistan ~ Iraq.

Eight years of U.S. postal service customs tags listing books, CDs, cookies~lots of cookies, sand scarves, hats, gloves, sheets and blankets, letters, licorice.  Silly pieces of paper to keep, I suppose.  But pieces of our history.

“Tell me what to send” I would plead.

“Anything, Mom, just send anything”.  So I sent anything and hoped.

Andrew and Doug

The best counting was the homecoming…six of them…. almost a “new birth” kind of feeling.  I was there for four, Doug for all six.  His Viet Nam experience demanded his boys come home to the sight of least one person there who loved them.

Brothers ~ Ian and Andrew

Robert and Uncle Andrew

David and me 2004

David and his dogs, 2008

We spent more money than we could afford on last-minute plane tickets.  We drove like crazy people so we.. so he…could be there.  The credit card companies loved us…. still do …. we’re still paying.  I would pay it ten times over.

Other moms and dads would do the same …. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind the credit card bill either …. except, they never had the opportunity.

Poppies

I bought my first poppy Saturday.  Not my first ever….just for this season.  I’ll end up with several more…. one for the car rearview mirror, my jacket zipper pull, one taped to the monitor of my work computer.

I’m a sucker for poppies, anything red,white and blue, anything remotely military.  I love Memorial Day and Veterans Day, not because they’re a day off work (actually, my employer does not give us Veterans Day), but because of what they mean to me.

I grew up with a WWII veteran father.  Almost all my friends had WWII veteran fathers.  We used to climb the hill behind my house, dig holes, build barricades and “play” War.  We’d divide up and switch from the war in the Pacific to the war in Europe, depending on mood.  We were a classic cross-section of Americana – – the Italian brothers from down the street, an assortment of “mixed-up” Americans like me, my best friend who was Jewish, and my other best friend who was Austrian… she held a certain mystique within our group as her father actually served in the German army.  We all got along just fine, except for when we were pretending….pretending to be our fathers I suppose.

And then I married a Viet Nam veteran.  History shows clearly how America treated those veterans.  I am still embarrassed by my generation…. embarrassed about the ones who did the spitting and the name calling….not the ones who served their country.

And then I had children.  I encouraged their creative play…discouraged violent play…refused to buy toy guns.  But just as I wobbled around in my Mom’s high heels…. they wore their Dad’s old fatigues.  They made guns out of sticks and played war in the woods.  I never dreamed they would do it for real.

Memorial Day has changed for me.  Memorial Day has changed me.

It used to be a day to remember and reflect… on people I did not know.