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Memorial Day

My dad is in the parade today in the town I grew up in.  He's not marching – this year he gets to ride on the float.  And he's with the Rotary Club, not the Veterans. 

But if he chose, he could march with the WWII vets. 

He enlisted in the Navy when he was underage because he didn't want to get drafted and have someone else decide how he should serve. 

I've seen pictures of him on the ships – tall, skinny kid, dark hair, shirt off, with his buddies, his smile typically modest, even then.

He doesn't talk much about that time.  He was not career military.  He served, and he came home, and he went back to being a civilian.

On my husband's side of the family, it's a little different.  My husband's late father was in the Navy, as was his brother.  I never knew Bill's father, but I knew his uncle, who passed away a few years ago from cancer.  He was always smiling, this uncle, and his Navy days were always such a part of who he was.  One year I made him a cake shaped like the aircraft carrier he served on.  He kept in touch with many of his Navy buddies.  It was a huge part of his life. 

One of Bill's older brothers served in the Air Guard, and his son does as well.  Desert Storm for the father, Afghanistan and Iraq for the son. 

Mostly, none of them talk about the bad times.  The ugly times.  The horror.  The death.  The stories I hear are lighter – goofy things a bunch of guys did when they had time to act their ages.  It's easier to talk about those things.  Especially around non-military people who just weren't there and wouldn't understand.  Not completely.

My dad was a radio operator - radio as in Morse code transmittions, not the spoken word.  He scribbled down messages as they came in.  His handwriting is a casualty of the war – jagged, jerky chicken scratch illegible to most people.

He doesn't talk about the loss.  About a sister ship that disappeared one night, along with all the men – boys, really – aboard.  Like I said, he doesn't talk about that time at all.  I suspect there is too much pain there, and my dad is a sensitive man.

He also doesn't live in the past.  He served, yes, but that was a long time ago. 

He's done other things since then, and I think that's why he hangs with the Rotarians in the parade.  He's still an active member, and he'd much rather focus on what is going on in his life here and now, instead of what happened years ago.  And the Rotarian motto is, after all, "Service above Self."  Kind of similar, right?  But in a more peaceful venue, which is more to my dad's taste.

So if I were to say to him "Thank you, Dad, for your service all those years ago," he would (and does) smile modestly and nod his appreciation…and then he'd probably change the subject.

But still.

Thank you, Dad.  For your service all those years ago.  And for all the ways you've served since then.  I am proud to be your daughter.

And Thank You, also, to all the men and women who have served, who serve now, and those who will serve one day.  Thank you. 

Thank you.  It cannot be said too many times.

2 thoughts on “Memorial Day

  1. Jayne you’ve said it all.
    My uncles were in WWII. One joined the army. He spoke Pa. German so they made him an interpreter. His brother joined the Navy and was a Seabee and helped prepare the way in the South Pacific. Brother-in-law…..Korean war MP. He came home to become a cop 🙂 My brother made it through Viet Nam…..only to come home and break his darn neck on a motorcycle. My cousin. He went out in submarines. (a 6 footer in a sub?) he said if he told me what they did, he’d have to kill me. Hope he was joking. Our whole family tree is full of heros.
    Please don’t forget the animals that served, from the donkeys in WWI who had to sacrifice their vocal cords so as not to alert the enemy right up through the brave bomb sniffing dogs of today.
    Will this never end? Now North Korea is stirring the pot.
    I’m rambling on too long. Must stop.

  2. It’s amazing what our vetrans have gone through, and I agree, it’s rare that they ever mention anything horrific that happened “over there”.

    Garry is a Marine Corps vetran – he was able to come home about a year ago and it’s been a huge blessing to have him home and safe. He served two tours in Iraq, one working as a mechanic and another working in mortuary affairs. We’ve talked a little about his time spent oversees, but his favorite stories are the ones of him and his friends goofing off, getting into trouble, or that time that he nearly cracked his skull open on deck (as he proudly shows the scar on his head).

    The only time he mentioned mortars raining on his camp he just shrugged it off as if they were being hit with a heavy rainstorm. When working with his fallen soldiers all he will say is “It had to be done, there was no time to be emotional about it.” when deep down I know it affected him deeply.

    He comes from a family of service members, his mother and father both served so joining the service was only natural for him and was planning on staying in for life.

    But then he met me, and knowing that I wasn’t up for traveling around the world and being a military wife (ie living my life in a constant state of chaos and instability) and deciding for himself that he wanted to finally settle and maybe live in one place for more than a few years, he came home to Binghamton and to me.

    While he was out on Sunday I put together a bookshelf for him, I pulled out his Marine Corps cap and a few other things that were dear to him and displayed them nicely. While that is his past, it is still a big part of who he is today. When he came home and saw it, he just hugged me. I think he knew what it meant.

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