My grandmother called it Decoration Day, when the graves were decorated with flowers or wreaths. But to me, the term "Memorial Day" really says it all. Remembering.
I didn't plan on searching for my Dad's war correspondence on Sunday. Coming across some old photos of my grandparents' led me to a sort and toss mission. (I kept more than I tossed, at least for now.) Among the things I found was a letter written by my dad the night before he was shipped out during World War II to India where he would participate in the China/Burma/Indian theater.
He told my grandparents about his adventures in San Francisco on a 12-hour leave a few days before and about his activities in getting ready to leave. But much of the letter reminded them not to worry.
The words in the letter were calming but filled with uncertainty. "We still don't know where we're gong but know it's supposed to be tropical service," he writes.
But he appeared to find it of some comfort that they would keep together the team of guys who served together at Fort Custer.
He reminds his parents that they shouldn't believe everything they hear on the news. Propaganda is frequent and he tells of fellows whose boat was said to have sunk but it was just fine. "The old saying 'no news is good news' holds true in these times," he writes.
He reminds them that mail may take a long while to arrive and again, not to worry, saying it may take from six weeks to six months.
And there is great uncertainty. "We can only guess at our destinations.... for the present our destination is X." Destination X ended up being India.
The letters from India are chatty. He writes of spending time in the mountains over the holiday at what sounded like a lovely spot.
And in this lovely spot he also appeared to be rather smitten with a tea planter's daughter.
Might this photo be of the tea plantation he visited? Perhaps.
Other letters speak to the loneliness and difference in spending a Christmas away from home.
Another speaks to my grandmother's birthday and his apologies for not sending something.
During my dad's time in India, he took hundreds of photos (it runs in the family; you should have seen the boatload of pix my grandparents took!) They tell the story of a world completely different from any he'd ever seen before.
There were people of great poverty.
As I read through the letters I was reminded of the stories of so many young men who ventured off in service to their country for any number of wars. An obituary in this week's news highlighted the life of a man in our community who fought in the European theatre and whom we had interviewed for our World War II special years ago. My high school boyfriend went to Vietnam, joining the Air Force after high school.
One day you're at the prom; then you're in a strange land. Your girlfriend is at college, experiencing new things, new people, just as you are. Yet you are world's apart, literally and figuratively.
I often wonder about that, knowing now what we know about Vietnam and feeling a good deal of guilt for not recognizing the conditions and the horror of that time and place. I can only hope he has forgiven me for simply not understanding.
These days I read stories, listen to the news and hear about the grim battles being fought all over the world. I know the young men and women who are doing these things are like my dad or like Ron was -- men and women who left families, girlfriends and boyfriends, the comforts of home, the security of knowing that in general their lives were safe -- for new places, new experience and often, dreadful things.
So, when I think of Memorial Day, I do think of those like my dad who have died, of those who are no longer here, whether they died in battle or years after. I think of my mom and aunt and friends whom I remember with a full heart and much love.
But, as I do on Veterans Day, I also think of those who went to war, who served and still live on. Some sharing stories that have been locked in their minds for many years. Stories that will perhaps teach us and remind us that war may well be fought for good causes, even necessary ones. But not all endings are happy. Our best gift to them may indeed be to remember.
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