Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Remembering those who serve

One of my favorite childhood memories was of a Fourth of July Parade on our street. Sadly, we lived in a small town, and there was no city parade scheduled. I am resourceful. I planned my own parade.

My brother was to ride his bike, pulling a float behind him. The “float” was a box filled with dirt, if I recollect correctly, and sported one of my dolls holding a baby. She was a war widow. How I knew about war widows at that time, I’ll never know, but there she was. A cassette tape recorder played a rousing rendition of patriotic music sung by yours truly, recorded earlier. I followed behind, twirling a baton. We both dressed in red, white, and blue.

Our parade went all of the way up the street, which was less than a block long, and back again. Never mind that no one was there to watch. One neighbor came out and was thrilled with our parade and took pictures of us. Maybe no one was home. But we were doing our duty for our country anyway.

Another wonderful memory is of a show that we put on as cousins one summer. The big finale was a number in which our stars danced on a table and we threw rose petals as we all sang “You’re a Grand Old Flag” at the top of our lungs. What a great song that is! So rousing! I still sing it occasionally at the top of my lungs.

We’ve always been a patriotic family. We believe in this country, and the ideals that it was founded on. We love the stars and stripes. When Tuxedo Boy was about 5, he saw a flag vest at Wal-Mart, shopping with Grandma. “We have to get one of those!” He said. “My mudder would WOVE one!” He was right. I loved that vest that he gave me for my birthday.

My home is decorated in Americana. I was afraid to do it at first, thinking that I would wear it out, get sick of the Grand Old Flag. I haven’t! In this home that we have been in for seven years, we were lucky to have had an Eagle nest hovering over our backyard. We have watched the baby Eagles learn to fly, and watched the parents return year after year to reign majestically.

We are not a grave-visiting family. My extended family does so, but it’s just not something that my immediate family took up. We believe that memorials are something that should be celebrating the life of someone, rather than the death. They are not in that grave, anyway, and we can commune with them and be grateful for them anyplace. We’re also a thousand miles from most of the family graves, so that may have something to do with it!

We don’t wait for Memorial Day to remind us to be grateful for the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf. We are truly grateful, every single day, for the families who have given much to maintain our way of life.

There are those who lost their lives fighting for the United States…my grandmother’s brother who died at the Battle of the Bulge. I don’t think that she ever got over that loss, nor did my great-grandmother. My husband’s great-grandfather came home intact…at least physically. His scars were emotional, and his family said that after his return, he would sit on his mother’s lap and she would rock him. He was over six feet tall. He accidental death shortly after is somewhat questioned by his family. Perhaps the pain was just too much to bear and he took his own life at that time. An uncle who returned from Viet Nam, never to speak of his experience there. A friend who died in the Gulf War, leaving behind a beautiful widow and two equally gorgeous baby girls.

Our current military continues to sacrifice. My brother has taken his turn in Iraq and elsewhere throughout the world, leaving behind his family, as has a cousin that recently came home. Each time they leave, it is understood that they might not return. They prepare for such an eventuality…and always hope that this time, it might not be. We have gratefully, thankfully, been spared that pain. I can’t even imagine how I would cope with that loss! But that does not mean that their family…and extended families…have not suffered.

His children have spent long periods of time without him. His wife has had to be a single parent many times. Their relationships are strained as the coming and going is dealt with, the distance to be overcome. They are often unable to plan basic family vacations, for fear that these plans will be changed at a moment’s notice.

The day to day strain of the military is also a sacrifice. They never settle in one area for too long. They have to make friends quickly in each area, only to leave them behind very soon. They learn to keep in touch with those that are no longer available to you every day. Their home is never their own, and may or may not fit their home d├ęcor.

And all so that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms granted us by this country.

We are thankful for each and every one of them. The ones that go TDY, the ones that stay home. The MP that keeps my sister in law safe on base while my brother is away. The wives who band together to make life bearable for one another and the children that they share. For those who served many years ago, and the ones who do so today.

We have a dear friend and adopted family member who served in France. He tells of a time that they were on duty and heard music coming…a group of local youth had made cakes (in a time of flour rationing) and came out to bolster the American troops that were there to protect them. He then got tears in his eyes when he talked of how France has forgotten what the Americans did there. So many of our men never came back from those fields.

In the recent batch of family pictures that I have been deciphering, there is one family that is eluding me. Franklin T. Brown, Sr, died in March of 1945 in Germany. I have a beautiful picture of his family, a smiling wife and two adorable boys. The boys would still be alive, having lived some 60 years without their father. I have a photo of his gravesite. I don’t know when he was born or his parents, even his wife’s name. I did find the location of the grave. He is buried in Luxemborg. Even his body was lost to the family.

Yes, it’s true that they are not truly there in the grave, and that gravesites are not the only place to memorialize someone. But how heartbreaking to not even be able to say goodbye. Communication was not the same as it is today. His wife may not have heard for days or even weeks after his death. She may or may not have had any contact with him during the time that he served.

I am appreciative of today’s technology that allows our service men and women to freely communicate with their loved ones. Email, webcams, digital photography and videography allow them to share experiences on both sides of the conversation. Our service folks get to take part in their family’s life, and talk a bit about what they are doing. We have come so far.

Someday, I’ll find out the name of the pretty lady who raised those two boys without Franklin. I may even find the little boys whom I have so many pictures of. I hope that their lives were healthy and happy and that they were rewarded in some way for the sacrifice that they made for ME.

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