Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Day

Allow me a short lesson on Memorial Day.  Memorial Day is to celebrate military folks who died in a war.  It’s not for veterans who served in the military.  They have another day and it’s called, coincidentally, Veteran’s Day.  Even my husband who never carried a gun in the Viet Nam war but instead took a bunch of correspondence courses in Air Conditioning during his night shift in a power plant—even he gets to celebrate Veteran’s Day. I don’t think he suffered anything more than long lines and bad food in his war.

You gotta die to get celebrated for Memorial Day.
I say this because I’ve never had anyone to celebrate on Memorial Day.  All the military folks I’ve known all made it home safe and sound. The closest thing I ever had to a relative in danger was Uncle Harry who earned the Purple Heart for getting shrapnel in his butt yet he never liked to talk about it. I guess the circumstances were a little embarrassing. 
The thing is I’ve never had anyone to name on facebook or anyone to visit at a cemetery.
And a lot of people get their holidays mixed up and try to claim veterans on Memorial Day and I get a little upset or maybe jealous.  I’m not so sure what it is that upsets me.
But now I found out that I have someone I can celebrate on both days and it’s not everybody you can do that for and if I have to bend the rules a little I will because I think an exception can be allowed here.  I’m only sorry I didn’t learn the story until after my veteran’s death…..a good death, of natural causes, in his own bed five days after his 92nd birthday.  Technically, it wasn’t a battle death but hear my story.
My step-father was a quiet man of few words.  He was my step-father longer than my father was my father.  He married Daddy’s second wife who had been my step-mother longer than my mother had been my mother.  Neither one raised me but they functioned as my parents longer than actual parents had. 
In the over 40 years I knew Terry I heard far less about his time in the Army than I heard about my Daddy’s service in the short time I spent with him.  Daddy told stories and showed photos; he loved to talk about the war.  But Terry was  a humble man who didn’t go into a lot of details about his life.  About all I knew was that he had trained to be a paratrooper but landed wrong on his first practice jump and crushed his ankle.  I knew he was part of a platoon that was scheduled to land as part of the D Day forces but he missed the whole thing because he was still in the hospital.  And that’s all he ever said. A lot of time people would accuse him of breaking his ankle on purpose to get out of the Army.  He would merely deny it and let the conversation go.
I think he was discharged from the Army when he got out of the hospital.  I know he had a medical benefit for his ankle so I guess the Army didn’t think he was of much use to them anymore.  For the rest of his life the ankle would swell periodically and hurt most of the time. But he never had a limp or anything.  I always thought he got a pretty good deal out of it.
It wasn’t until after Terry died that his widow, Betty, told me the part of the story that Terry never told anyone. She said that he spent a lot of time in his last days getting things off his chest.  Every once in a while he would tell her to come sit by him. “I’ve got something I need to tell you.”  Mostly it was plans for what she should do after he was gone, how to handle the bills and such.  But sometimes it was a detail from his life.  And, at last, he told her the story.
While he was laid up in the hospital on D Day, his whole platoon was killed parachuting from the sky into France.  He was the only one left alive. All the man of few words said was, “None of them came back.”
I can only imagine what it was like to live with that knowledge for the rest of his life.  No buddies to reminisce with about the war. No stories to swap.  Everyone gone.  The survivor’s guilt. 
Terry was a quiet and humble guy.  And now I wonder how much of that was a result of having your entire platoon killed while you were laid up in the hospital.  What does life become when your own is somehow singled out in such a seemingly miraculous manner? 
I can only imagine what Memorial Day was like for him.  And he never let on.

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