Memorial DayPosted: May 28, 2007
My Daddy is a veteran of the United States Army.
I guess if one wants to be technical about it, that sentence should be in past tense. But I still have issues about putting him in the past, even though he died six years ago. Six years. Wasn’t it just yesterday?
The hole in my heart, mended with a Saran Wrap-like substance, still tears open if I let myself dwell on how much his absence haunts us. Most of the time, it’s like only a thin veil of breath that separates us. He’s there beside us on birthdays and holidays. He’s there when we need the hard questions answered, or even the easiest ones…a whisper in our minds when we least expect it. Or a holler when I should check the oil in my car. 🙂
He watches Toddler, the grandchild he’s never met, grow and learn. Even Toddler feels him, I know it. When her Grandma was showing Toddler a family picture, and naming each person, she got to our Dad, and named him Grandpa, showing Toddler the man she couldn’t possibly recognize. Staring at the photo, Toddler was quiet a moment, and then she brightened. “PeePaw!” she smiled with sparkling eyes. Toddler’s grandfather on her mother’s side passed on before her birth, too, so she has no frame of reference with which to come up with a name like this as far as we know. So, you tell me. Has she heard the whispers, too?
Other times, it’s like a yawning, cavernous divide that separates us. When we need a hug, or to look into his understanding eyes.
He’s still with us. And though he didn’t get to serve his country in the ranks of the Army for as long as he was prepared to, having been discharged honorably after they discovered his deafness in one ear, he still served his country in the ranks of life by how he, beside my mother, raised us.
We were raised know what an honor it is to be an American.
We were raised to become respectable people who can contribute to the upstanding fabric of our country.
We were taught that those who serve our country are to be supported, respected and honored, and not to take them for granted. Dad’s brother served six tours in Viet Nam, part of it in special ops undertaking missions we later learned about in documentaries on television, and only because I recognized a patch from my uncle’s uniform. We were taught that being a soldier is something not just anyone can do. And if not for them, those who do the jobs no one else will or can undertake, we would not enjoy the life we have today, in America, the greatest country in the world.
Through Dad’s instruction, we learned just why people who speak and act in a treasonous manner, sometimes under the guise of freedom of speech, are to be scorned.
Because of Dad’s intense interest in World War II and in his sharing , we learned exactly, thoroughly, what Hitler and Nazi Germany represented and what atrocities they committed. We were not shielded from the pictures of bodies upon bodies in mass graves, or the descriptions of the cattle cars, the concentration camps, genetic testing, and the racial and religious profiling. The ovens, the gas chambers. So with this knowledge, we know ‘Hitler’ and ‘Nazi’ aren’t terms one throws around like casual adjectives when someone disagrees with someone else’s politics. (I even feel a pang of conscience and hypocrisy when I laugh about Seinfeld’s ‘Soup Nazi.’)
Dad and Mom taught us that conflicts and obstacles often don’t have easy ways out, but are to be fought through to get to the other side. No giving up. Even in his final conflict, lung cancer could not cow Daddy’s spirit.
Though he wasn’t a church-going man, Daddy was Saved and had an unwavering belief in God that he passed on to us. Even after his death, he reaches out to reassure us, to remind us not to lose our faith when things don’t go our way, and that God’s will prevails, not our own.
So many other things I could say that encompass the lifetime of lessons that Daddy gave us.
So when someone asks if our father served his country, I can say yes. He did. He gave his all to us, and to others, so that we might be better people, better Americans, and at the end of his life’s mission, he’d earned the flag on his coffin and the veteran’s marker on his grave.