“Most of those whom we honor on Memorial Day died young. They never had the chance to raise a family, build a career, attend the weddings of their children, or be honored in old age..”Letitia James
Each year for Memorial Day I write. Quite a few years ago I realized I, like many Americans, thought of it as little more than a three day weekend.
I can’t change the actions of others, but I can change myself. I began to find a fallen soldier. It didn’t matter in what war they lost their lives, just that they lost their lives in service to our country.
Some years my selection process has been almost comical. I mostly just grab words or places or wars or anything else that comes to mind and find a soldier who met that description. I believe by now I have covered all wars and so many kinds of people, When you are a storyteller, you get quite impressed as to where random takes you. I tend to call it providence.
This year it was more than simple. I chose the Vietnam War. I have a special affinity for those who lost their lives in that war. It seems so senseless.
My only other qualification was that the person would be buried in my hometown. I wanted to go to the grave.
I found a list of those from my hometown listed on the Vietnam Wall. I randomly picked one. This wasn’t even picking to see the name. More like closing my eyes and hitting the link on their names. He was in Arlington National Ceremony.
I picked a second one. He is buried in Belmont Ceremony. I pass that ceremony often. In fact, having a weird affinity for ceremonies (is it because that’s were my parents had their first date?), I had walked there on occasion.
I found his grave and took pictures. Then I went home and write an article for News Break, the local news app I write for, and another for the Medium site. They were similar, but different.
I’ve learned over the years that while this exercise is for me, I would love if it makes someone else see each casualty has a story. Maybe knowing this could make someone a bit less flippant about sending our military into war zones. Maybe they’re not really flippant, but sometimes I wonder.
I believe it was the next day I got a message from my friend Bette. She had read my Medium story and seeing the last name of the soldier, sent it to her former neighbors in Statesville with the same name and asked if they happened to know who it was. It was his brother.
As a little aside here, Bette had talked about these neighbors many times and what great people they were. Last year, when she still lived next door, I picked her up for something and she had a bag of vegetables for me from this neighbor, Steve. He’d never met me, but Bette had said I was picking her up, he had extra vegetables, and asked if I might want some. (My answer to that question is always yes, if anyone is interested.)
They gave her the phone number of the son (it turned out to be his wive’s number) and asked her to send the article to him. She sent both articles.
Friday I received the sweetest and most heartfelt message from Marvin Jr. I cried.
His dad never got to meet him. He was deployed when he was born. He certainly has remembered him. He has been to the Vietnam Memorial several times and had met some of the soldiers he served with that returned home.
Yet he said this article may be more important to him than those things, certainly as special as those times had been. I suspect it was because a stranger took the time to “meet” and honor his father.
In his second email he has asked if we can meet. I had already wanted the same. There’s so much more to this story I want to learn. I want to learn what he knows about his dad. I want to learn what his life has been like. I want to learn what he thinks about things like the Vietnam War and the military. My list could go on and on.
It’s probably the most special Memorial Day weekend I have ever had. Truthfully, going into the weekend I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. Now I feel so lucky to be me.
Find a way to honor the fallen. I was able to tell Marvin Jr. that when I went to his dad’s grave I not only thanked God for his father’s life, but I prayed for his family. Never did I think they would know or I would get a chance to know them.
We often forget each military casualty represents a story. Actually a series of stories, since every life impacts others. Learn the stories. Don’t ever forget they lived.