Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Memorial Day

Yesterday, we had a barbecue at my youngest brother's house. Several cousins and friends brought their families and we cooked hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill. We had potato salad, baked beans, pickles and some other veggies like carrots for dipping. We had about 10 kids between the ages of 2-12. They all took turns bouncing on the big trampoline in the back yard. Even the adults got on and took turns bouncing around. We looked pretty silly, but we were having a good time.

Later we had watermelon and played "horseshoes". My mom had also brought my father's uncle over. He has Parkinson's disease and lives in a nursing home. His own children don't come and see him much, so my mom always makes sure he comes to all of our barbecues and holidays. By the end of the day, we were exhausted, but happy.

My other brother called today and told us he was on standby. He was supposed to go to Iraq shortly and had made all preparations to go, when they told him they had "double slotted" the position. In other words, they had actually selected 2 people to go for one position. Apparently, the other one had shown up and taken that slot, so my brother is waiting for follow up orders. This is probably relief and agony for his wife at the same time. She has been dreading his deployment, but had screwed her courage up to the sticking point and now he is being held back. I can't imagine what she feels.

He and I had talked last week and discussed particulars of all necessary legal documents if something should happen to him. He named me the executor as he felt that his wife would not be able to handle things if this situation arose. We talked about general topics and actually had a laugh about full military honors funeral services. He insists that he wants full honors with all the guys in full dress uniform and that he would be buried in Arizona. Not because he is from there, but because it is very hot in the summer. He stated, "I want those b*stards to sweat like I did when I went to military funerals."

This might sound strange to some people, but I gather it is not unusual among career military men to laugh about such things. I think it helps them keep the thought of potential death in it's true perspective. Not something to dwell on and become morose about. If you laugh about it, it can't paralyze you with fear while you're in battle. Your head will be clear and you can get on with the task at hand.

The only thing I did not do today is go to my Grandfather's grave. He died 17 years ago (I can't believe how long it's been, seems like yesterday). I am going to do that this week. He served in World War II in the Navy as a Seaman 1st class. He was there when they bombed Iwo Jima and helped run the soldiers back and forth on the LSTs while they were being sprayed with machine gun fire and mortars. He never told anyone about his service until a year before he passed. I remember that we sat on his front porch eating barbecue sandwiches from Gates Brothers and drinking a beer. We were talking about history because he knew I liked it so much. Then he told me some stories about his time in the Navy. He was very proud of his service, but he never bragged or showed off his medals. When he died, we got a surprise when we found out he had won the Navy's Bronze Cross for valor and a few lesser service ribbons.

I have 2 uncles who served as well. My Mom's older brother served in Korea and my Dad's younger brother in Vietnam. They are both great guys who don't really talk about their service too much either. Both of them are proud of this service, but have their medals and other mementos tucked away in boxes. The men in our family believe in doing their duty. They don't believe they are heroes (even if they have a box full of ribbons) or anything special. Now that I think about it, I have always heard the same thing from all of them: The real heroes never came back.

We have had a lot of men in our extended family who have served in the military, all the way back to World War I. The men in our family have never been drafted, they always enlist, just like my brother (although, my brother is the only one I know of to make a career out of it).

My father told me about the day my uncle enlisted in the military. My uncle will tell you it is because my dad and my aunt were both married and he was left at home to bare the brunt of my Grandmother's "mothering", which he said was about to drive him crazy. So he went and joined the Army a few months after turning 18. It was 1970 and the war was not going well at that time. Lot's of peace protests and riots going on. This would not seem like a good time to enlist.

However, my dad tells me that my uncle enlisted to keep my dad from being drafted. My dad had been married for less than 3 years. I was a baby and 1st brother was on his way. My Dad's status was "A1" for the draft which meant that he was a prime candidate to be selected. When my uncle found out, he went down and enlisted that day. He was single and thought that he had much less to lose. During the draft, if you already had a father or brother enlisted in the military, your draft status was downgraded. My father was never called up.

My dad always felt guilty about this so he did the next best thing and became a police officer. He retired a few years back after 21 years on the force. He has scrap books and letters of commendations tucked away in a box, too.

So, on a day we are supposed to remember our heroes, I just want to take a few minutes to remember the heroes that I personally know and love.

God bless our soldiers and keep them safe.

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