Monday, May 28, 2007

On Memorial Day

Every few weeks during my early childhood, my parent would pack my sibs and me in the car for a visit to my relatives in Ontario, Oregon. My mother was raised in Ontario and her family was scattered in the vicinity.

My maternal grandfather served during World War II. I don't know very much about his service except that he was in the European theatre. In their home I recall a black frame with black velvet backing where his medals were displayed. There were 8-9 of them pinned to the backing. The frame hung in a hallway near their bedroom as a silent reminder of my grandfather's service. During our visits to their Ontario home I remember peering through the glass at the medals..wondering what sort of heroic deeds my grandfather must have done to earn such praise.

My grandfather died in 1977 of complications from Parkinson's Disease. I don't have a single memory of him discussing his experiences during the war.

Also living near Ontario at the time was my father's eldest brother, Bill. Uncle Bill and his brood lived in a neighboring town and they were one of the many pit stops we made on our rounds throughout the region as we visited. Uncle Bill was a fire and brimstone Baptist preacher with a wife and four kids. He was also a Vietnam vet whose souvenier of service was a more tangible daily event: his lower left leg and been left overseas. Its replacement was a prosthetic metal leg. He sometimes walked with a cane--and would rap the cane against his leg to gather the attention of the children.

Uncle Bill didn't speak much about his service, either. He told me about his replacement leg only because I was precocious enough at age 10 to ask what had happened.

And a few years ago while doing some geneological research, I discovered that one of my great grandfathers served in the Civil War. He fought for the Union--in one of the North Dakota regiments. I have a copy of his honorable discharge papers tucked away with other materials I gathered during my quest to find out more about my family history.

Today is the day set aside for honoring the memories of those who served. I honor these men from my family today by remembering them here and in my heart. I pass along these memories to my children--what little I know--so that they have a connection to not just their family's history, but to the sacrifices their family made in service to the nation.

Many of us are taking the time to recall those who've died recently in Iraq and Afghanistan--and rightfully so. I also wanted to take time today to recall those who've served in other wars and conflicts as well.

War is a horrible, ugly and (sometimes) necessary event. While many of us are angry and upset with the current events that have placed our military in harms way--its important that we keep in our hearts the service of those whose job it is to fight to defend our nation.

And to be grateful to them for what they do and the sacrifice that so many have made.