When I was a child I never really could understand my father’s propensity for tears during a parade. Yes, I was probably too distracted worrying about when a float would go by that would have people throwing candy than I was about why my father stood silently saluting a flag carried by old men. It did strike me as odd, though that he found parades so sad.
And I never really understood why we spent the first day of summer haunting cemeteries. I’d sit hunched in the backseat of our sedan as the day grew long, fuming at the injustice of missing a day at the pool while Dad’s shoulders heaved over in the corner at a grey memorial.
I started to grasp that Dad might have a story once I entered high school and began writing a research paper on the men who served in
As his father before him did when Pearl Harbor was bombed, Dad enlisted when things began to heat up in
The day that changed my father forever was the day he opened a military paper listing the latest fatalities in
In my teen angst I found myself angry at Dad for his despair. If he had been with his company, I wouldn’t exist. But as I’ve matured I’ve come to realize that survivor’s guilt can’t be explained away logically. It just is.
Who really knows why my dad was spared death in
All too often we are asked “remember our military” and usually that means to remember the dead. At times like these, both my dad and my granddad have been known to say, “I didn’t do a damn thing in the war,” as if fighting and dying is the only price a soldier can pay. And though it is important that we remember the soldiers that paid the ultimate price, I think it is time for us to also remember the brave men and women who enlist, serve, are discharged and go on to live out their lives outside of the military. Their service is just as valuable. Their bravery is no less. And, many times, the grief they carry at the loss of their fallen comrades is more than they can bear alone.
These days I stand proudly at parades beside my father with his hand in mine. I’m no longer confused at his tears, for those old men carrying a flag also bring on my own.