Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Memories

Blessed Memorial Day! It’s a day to remember our gratitude to our troops, a collection of citizens willing to serve our country as needed. And also to remember those who sacrificed with their lives.

I appreciate having a day set aside for this idea. I didn’t know, however, when I was growing up, that it was a military remembrance day. Where I grew up it was a day to honor our departed dead, whether veterans or not. We got up in the morning and gathered canning jars and mayonnaise jars and filled them with water. Then we snipped flowers from around the yard. The irises were blooming and often still some of the daffodils and tulips. Sometimes the lilacs were still in bloom, and they smelled the best. We added in some fronds from the bridal wreath bushes. This was northwest enough and high altitude enough that spring was very accommodating. We filled the jars with the flowers, placed them carefully in boxes in the trunk of the car (or back of the station wagon) and headed to the cemetery.

We met cousins and neighbors there, even though we hadn’t set a time for our visit. Everybody we knew just did this on Memorial Day. So I knew where my grandparents’ graves were located, well enough that I could find them again today if I were there. I don't think there was ever any slight meant to the military; there was just a love of those gone before us.

I’ve lived away for half my life now, so it has become a day to begin summer. And maybe I’m more aware now of the intention to honor the military.

The last time I went to that cemetery was last summer, when I visited with my mom, to look at the grave marker that had finally been placed on my dad’s grave. He had passed away the previous Christmas, at age 91. My dad was a veteran. It took a year after Pearl Harbor before the Army would accept him, for reasons I don’t know, because he was in good health. By then he said they would take anyone with a heartbeat.

After a year or so stationed in Texas and Louisiana, he was recruited into the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. He had a suitcase with a secret compartment, but beyond that I never saw any spy devices. His assignment was clerical, gathering intel and sending it out to the appropriate places. After OSS training he was stationed in London and also spent time in Paris and Copenhagen. Copenhagen was right at the end of the war, and he and his commanding officer were welcomed with a parade as war heroes—honoring those American soldiers who had fought for their freedom. A few times my dad had been near gunfire, but he hadn’t ever been in battle. He did interview a number of heroic inidividuals who had worked in underground resistance.

One of my favorite of his stories was from this brief time in Denmark. He attended church there, as he did everywhere. There was a man attending, a recovering injured German soldier. He talked with my dad and some other people there, giving his story. He was religious but not in the state Lutheran Church, so he was making preparations (had already bought a ticket) to immigrate to America when his father died, and he was needed to stay and help support his family. That meant he was still there when he got conscripted into the German Army. He asked how these fellow churchgoers felt about people like him. My dad put his arm around his shoulder and said, “You’re my brother, and I love you. Does that answer your question?” That was my dad, and I honor him especially today.

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