Last night I watched the PBS showing of the Memorial Day concert at the Capitol in Washington, DC. When I lived in DC from 1975 until 1992 I sometimes attended this event. My mom called during the show to ask if I was watching. Some years we watch it together. It is a moving event because the actor hosts often read for the audience the letters written by military men and women to their families. Last night there was a remembrance of Charles Durning, an actor and a veteran. There also was a heart-breaking reading of letters from brothers who enlisted together and now are parted because one brother found it impossible to bear his survivor’s guilt after the deaths of comrades and his brother’s loss of a leg.
Later today I plan to stop by the cemetery to visit my dad’s grave. I can do that on the way to my mom’s house. My brother Danny and his wife Lisa will be there for a barbecue. It is my sister Kathy’s birthday, but she will be far away and celebrating with her husband Jeff, daughter Maureen, and son-in-law Justin.
My dad served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, but he did not see action during his period of service. He was a polio survivor. I think that is one reason why he was stationed in Hawaii after his basic training. He suffered physical side-effects of polio all of his life, not that he ever spoke of it, other than to report a fact in passing. He spoke much more often of his years in the Marines, especially of the men with whom he served. Some remained friends of his until his death.
There are others in my family who have served. My great uncle, Dr. Edward P. King served in the Navy. He was a doctor. My Uncle John served in war times. My nephew Al serves now in the Marines.
My sister Kathy makes Quilts of Valor for men and women injured during service. I understand that some of the quilts are sent overseas. When a soldier is injured his or her clothes usually are cut away to permit medical personnel to treat wounds. Sometimes the soldiers are wrapped in quilts during their transport to another military hospital location. Kathy and her husband Jeff (the DC area coordinator) travel around to present the quilts sewn by members of Kathy’s charity to returning servicemen and servicewomen. Jeff and Kathy have met many returning soldiers over the years. http://www.mspquiltingangels.org/jointheangels.html; http://www.qovf.org.
Kathy and her friends also make quilts for children with cancer and other childhood diseases.
One of the soldiers with whom my sister has come in contact–Lt. Alix–received a quilt and heard my sister talking about how I was having a tough time going through cancer treatment. Lt. Alix gave my sister a medal she had received for military service and asked my sister to give it to me. She wanted to pay forward her award by giving it to someone else engaged in a battle.
That was very kind of Lt. Alix. I don’t think the award was something I deserved, but I am grateful for the sacrifices this airwoman has made for our nation. That’s the thing that is unique about military men and women’s sacrifices: they are made for others.
My battle was for my own life against a disease that advanced very slowly. I had plenty of time to address it. Among persons dealing with cancer I had a relatively easy battle. I know so many men and women whose battles are much more intense.
In contrast, our members of the armed services battle for a nation against immediate threats too numerous to name or identify. As I listened last night to a tape of Charles Durning’s memories of his own service, for which he was awarded several medals, including the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, three Purple Heart medals, and the World War II Victory Medal, I felt my heart break over the experiences of our military. Far from family, surrounded by friends whose lives also hang in the balance, serving often in harm’s way, sometimes present while friends are killed, sometimes facing mortal or disabling wounds of their own–always vigilant for others’ safety and sometimes forgotten.
I wrote to Lt. Alix to thank her for her kindness, but she did not answer me. I hope she knows that I appreciate not just her generosity to me, but her generosity to our nation. On Memorial Day and every day there are heroes walking beside us. They may never say a word about their experiences. Their wounds may not be visible. They are not the only ones who sacrifice. Their families often suffer long separations. Some of our nation’s heroes give their lives. It is fitting that we remember all of these sacrifices with respect and gratitude.
“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” – John F. Kennedy