Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day, 2009 - One I Will Always Remember

My Memorial Day started off like most others, not much planned, but for a conversation with my mother telling me of a service at the Glen Haven Memorial cemetery at 11:00am that day. I knew that most cemeteries had services, but I'd rarely attended. But today I thought I'd make the effort. It made it easier that I'd be on that side of town that day anyway. So I went.

As I approached the seats, listening to the band playing patriotic music, I started walking in the grass to get under the tent set up for guests. My mom said she'd be there, and I was going to look for her, but I noticed something. Over the past week or two, we have had some of the wettest weather we've ever had here in Central Florida, some places receiving over 27 inches in one week. So as I approached I started hearing the squish, squish of standing water. The chairs were set up in the lowest area in the cemetery, but folks still sat there. I guess a sunburn would hurt more than trench foot. But I stayed dry and bared the sun.

I'm glad I did, for if I would have stayed cool under the tent I wouldn't have stood next to a retired solder, a Vietnam vet, I never got his name. We didn't say too much, but I started up our acquaintance by pointing out a man's flag next to us, a little one on a stick, was on the ground. After trying to make him aware of the discomfort I felt seeing it there, I picked it up and said, "especially on a day like today, this shouldn't be on the ground" and handed it to him. He walked off, I don't know if he truly heard me, but the vet next to me said " he's from a different generation", and I agreed.

But trying to think positive, I nudged the vet and pointed to the JROTC students standing ready to take part in the ceremonies and said " but there's hope for the next generation", and he smiled. We started slowly talking, I could see his discomfort, and as we went on, he told me that this was the first M-Day service that he'd ever been to since his war days. He said he'd been in two tours of duty, in '68 & '69, serving in the army. I listened as he told me about being in an attack helicopter unit, with gun ships and skips and then, with a chocked voice, he pulled out a framed picture, 3x5, of his best friend in country. His friend never made it back and I realized this must have been one, if not the first time he had shown this picture to a stranger. I truly felt honored to be holding it, this precious memory of his. I was humbled to say the least, and I stood there, blinking back tears, I could tell he had a lot of healing still to do.

As the ceremony progressed, the JROTC students performed a fallen solder tribute that struck home for both of us. The picture at the top of the entry shows the end result, but as the boys and girls performed it, you could tell, not a dry eye was to be had; even through my new friend’s sunglasses, I could tell by the frown and bowed head that he was moved to tears. The students brought out the rifle, boots, helmet, dog tags and placed them in the traditional way, in honor of the fallen. And as they did, other students, dressed in uniforms of the battles our best have fought and died in, came and stood behind the tribute, looking down at it with reverence. I was truly inspired and hopeful for our country's future seeing these young people showing heart felt patriotism. I know it exists, but to see it in person, in action, was uplifting to say the least.

As the ending of the ceremony was nearing, I knew I had to leave before it was over. I took the opportunity, as the solders, past and current, were asked to stand and be recognized for their service. Since my new friend was already standing, I patted him on the back, and offered my had to shake, and said "thank you for your service to our country", and I could tell he was appreciative as he looked me in the eye and said "you're welcome". I then left feeling honored to have made this first M-day service of his a little easier to get through, I thought it was the least I could do for him. I felt it was my duty after he confessed to me his apprehension of the day.

I had one other reason to be there that day, a even more personal reason. My father, who passed away April 18th, 1996, was resting there. So as I walked to my car, I made a point to stop by his grave and stood at the foot. I thought that today it would be appropriate that I give him a salute; he was in the USAF and served 3 years active and 25 year in the reserves reaching Lt. Col.. He was an honorable man, and he loved his country. He was buried with military honors, performed by the Orange County Sheriff's department. He was a Circuit Court Judge for 14 years before he passed, and a flag draped his coffin. So, I thought it was appropriate that, on Memorial Day, I give him a salute, the way he had taught me as a young man.

And as I did, the sound of a 21 gun salute cracked the silence....one round, then the next, then the final one. Then, just as it had happened on that day in April, 1996, TAPS rang out from the distance, and the scene of my father's grave side service was vividly back in my mind. I was motionless for a few moments, standing there and thinking that dad, my father was there with me and had pulled me to leave at that time, so that I might feel that feeling again, the pride, the pain, the honor of that day.

It started out as an average Memorial day, but I will always know that this Memorial Day, May 25th, 2009, will be one I remember and cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you my new Vietnam vet friend, thank you to all that have served and that have died for this country, thanks to the JROTC students that gave me hope and thanks dad for making this day so dear to me. I will always remember you and your hand guiding me through the day.


BAHL said...

Excellent commentary Captain.

Thanks for sharing.

I suspect the Judge is beaming with pride when looking in on your wonderful family.

air said...

Thanks for sharing, Capm; brought tears to my eyes. Dad's a Vietnam vet, and though he rarely tells any but the funny stories, the sobering ones reach deep.

Also, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that war; that's where my parents met!

chowes1 said...

Wonderful commentary, I so wish I had known about the ceremony. I would of loved to see it and experience it. What a wonderful tribute to our servicemen. Your dad was truly dedicated to his family and his community. He would be and is so proud of you...