Don’t Forget to Remember
By Anne Anderson
This Monday our thoughts should turn to those who have died in service to our nation. It is Memorial Day on May 25th. Back in the fall of 2005, my father passed away. About a year before his death, I helped him to reconnect with some of his war buddies that he served with in the Navy during WWII on the USS Intrepid. When he spoke to these men, I could see and hear in their voices the deep connection and bond they had with one another 60 years later. They were caught up in a situation much bigger than themselves and the simple lives they had come from to serve.
My father grew up in the small farming community of Hooper, Utah. He farmed up until joining the Navy, and upon his discharge, he went right back to the land. One time when he and I were going through some old newspaper clippings, we came across one about the LDS Church members at the US Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas. The picture was taken while they were meeting for Sacrament Meeting. He was front and center in the picture with a big, young, handsome smile on his face. He tried to read the article to me, and he could not even get through the second line. His emotions came right to the service. It touched me deeply.
It made me realize how hard it would be -- to be a farm-boy from Hooper who enlisted in the Navy because the U.S. had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. He loved the farming life. He had always aspired to be an excellent farmer and had been attending Utah State University’s Agriculture Program. He was sent away from his small town, taught to fly and land an airplane off an aircraft carrier, and drop bombs on the enemy.
Like many WWII veterans he did not like to talk about the war. He did not like to hear anyone brag of their war experiences or glorify war in any way – which would explain his not wanting to talk about the medals he received. His family knew, and we were so proud for him. After all of his flight training and piloting hours he committed to becoming a pilot for his country, he never, not even once, got into an aircraft again -- No, not even a commercial plane! He said he was too aware of what could go wrong! We thought it was just an excuse he used to get out of traveling with our Mom. He was very patriotic, as many of his generation, and loved to go to the morning flag-raising on the 4th of July at the Hooper Park.
In 2004, a year before his death, my father and other WWII veterans watched on television as the survivors of D-Day returned to the beaches of Normandy to remember. The statistic I have heard is that there are less than one in four WWII veterans left in our country and about 1100 die each day. These veterans and those who made the ultimate sacrifice should be recognized on Memorial Day. It is difficult for them to talk about that ugly war and yet so important that the memory of it is not lost by their passing. I found this expressed well in a poem written by a man named Mark Wright in June of 2000. It is entitled “Heroes Unaware.”
I first saw him on a park bench.
I’ve seen him every day.
Sitting in a shady grove -
Where my children come to play.
Sometimes he feeds the birds and squirrels,
Or whittles little toys.
Sometimes he just sits and smiles
At the laughing girls and boys.
And, I never paid him any mind
‘Til one day just this year,
I noticed that he wore a frown
And on his cheek …. a tear.
I asked him why he seemed so down.
He looked up, began to say…
I lost half my friends, 60 years ago today.
He told me of the terror
As he fought to reach dry land.
By the time the beachhead was secure,
Half his friends lay in the sand.
That was just in one long day.
He fought on for 4 years more.
And the 60 years from then to now
Have not dimmed His sights of war.
He said they have reunions…
Just to keep in touch and share.
And for each comrade who has gone on,
They leave an empty chair.
Well, His park bench has been empty now
About 6 months or so.
And if I’d never took the time
Then I never would’ve known,
That sitting on that simple bench
With bread crumbs and little toys,
Was a man who gave his all…
To guarantee my daily joys.
So give thanks to all the men and women
Who’re still here or have gone before,
And made the highest sacrifice
In both Peace time and in War.
Because, they bought our freedom.
Paid their own blood, sweat and tears.
Then, endured the heartache of those empty chairs
For all these years.
So please do not ignore them,
Or speed by without a care.
‘Cause you never know
When you might pass by,
A hero, unaware.
This Memorial Day, as we take time to enjoy friends and family, have a barbecue, visit the cemeteries, or go to the lake, we need to remember. Please don’t forget to remember that you are able to enjoy these pleasures because so many others have fought and are fighting now to defend our freedom, our peace, our faith and our families.