Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

My dad was in the Navy. During World War II, he was in the South Pacific arena. In my life, I have a million stories about Wake Island and, of course, the Battle of Midway.

Mom’s brothers were all in the service and her folks put their foot down about her going in, so she moved to Washington, DC, and worked in the Pentagon, processing papers for the Air Force. Her parents owned a truck stop outside Springfield, IL. Mom had never worked anywhere but the truck stop.

Honoring our veterans and days like Veterans Day has always been a big deal in my family. Family picnics and all the men telling war stories and women telling “Rosie the Riveter” stories. Those stories are ones I need to keep safe in the part of my brain that holds parts of my life in fine focus. When I took my 89-year-old mom to the cemetery yesterday to put a flag on Dad’s grave, I was reminded of this.

It wasn’t unlike other Veterans Days in one way. Mom always relates some fond memory of Dad, like how he kept his Navy uniform in a duffle bag in the basement for 30 years, how many flight hours he logged on Christmas Day 1941 and more. I always find myself gritting my teeth and saying, “I hope to God I never forget any detail of these stories.”

The thing that was sadly different is that it was just us two. It seems everyone else in the family was too busy to honor the long-gone sailor in our family and all others like him.

No carload of family headed to the cemetery, strolling the leafy paths, and pointing out familiar names on tombstones. No Sunday dinner with family, looking through scrapbooks.

I was surprised that there were not many cars at the cemetery and the place was not full of flags. I heard on the news last night that some Vietnam vets decorated a memorial over on the Kansas side and some jerk tore all the flags down during the night. I wanted to go over there and sit all night to make sure the bums didn’t do it again.

I hope we don’t ever lose the spirit of Veterans Day. It’s a valiant spirit and one that I am glad is alive in my soul. But yesterday – just me and Mom planting a little flag in the ground – I wondered how many young Americans even know the words to George M. Cohan’s songs or who Rosie the Riveter was.