It never really got easier. Putting on the uniform, the material rubbing at the scar tissue. Jamming feet into boots, and hat on to head. I put two precious items in my pocket. Time to go.
The children and their teacher or pastor would be waiting for me at the grave sites. This year I was finally ready to tell the story myself. How Decoration Day morphed in 100 years from the solemn family reunions to decorate the graves of the civil war dead, to a national “floating” holiday, Memorial Day on the last Monday in May. President Johnson signed into law in 1968. By 1974, all states had followed the federal/national innovative.
A date to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, to honour the fallen with parades, grave yard decorations, and speeches. So far, I was alright, telling the story without a hitch in my voice. Then I pulled from my pocket the two most special things I had.
“Here are my brother’s dog tags, and a picture from his first tour. My first tour would be his last. So I honour him, and all the more than one million more added to the Memorial Day list of fallen women and men.”
As the children formed teams with handfuls of flags, I turned away.
I hoped speaking here and other cemeteries today, would make things clearer for me. Remove the messy details. Be good for me. And for my brother.
Instead, so many memories flashed back. I walked a few feet from the decorating teams, and felt the heat of tears on my cheeks.
A small hand placed inside mine. “It’s alright to cry,” the child said. “Mommy said so when she told me Daddy’s unit never made it back to base.”
I knelt down. We hugged, tears mingling with tears. A hug from the living to the living. A hug from the living to the dead.
© phylor 2015; image from Wikipedia