Today is Memorial Day in the United States. The holiday marks the unofficial beginning of summer. Memorial Day originally developed as Decoration Day in the 1860s to pay respect to the 600,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War. Memorial Day predates by some fifty years the November 11 Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day marking the end of WWI in 1918.
Memorial Day today is in remembrance of all Americans who died in war.
I published a piece for Memorial Day 2010 on Loyalty Traveler telling the story of a fallen soldier and his family who I remember from my childhood. I vaguely remember the girls faces. Their names were forgotten long ago.
Here is that story again.
I was born in the army, but I was never a military serviceman. I grew up on U.S. military bases surrounded by the U.S. Armed Forces. I went to U.S. military hospitals to be born, when I was sick, and when I broke my wrist. No need to worry about insurance or payment. The military is the most socialist subculture of America.
I lived in military housing with my sisters and parents. I learned to maintain the yard with a lawnmower and edge trimmer before I was ten and how to scrub surfaces on counters, walls, and cars to rigorous military standards for inspection clearance.
I was educated in elementary, junior high, and high schools on military bases in several states and Germany.
My impressions of the military and soldiers and war were formed as a child.
My father was a career army soldier and served three tours in Vietnam. He first served when I was three and he was back in Vietnam for the entire year I was in first grade. In 1970-71, when I was in fifth grade, my dad served his third and final tour in Vietnam. He returned home in time for my 12th birthday. Just thirteen months later, January 1973, the Vietnam War ceasefire came.
Fort Sill, Oklahoma, adjacent to the city of Lawton, is where I experienced first-hand the only war death I recall from my life. The year was 1968 or 1969 and I was in third grade. Fort Sill offered suburban American life with sports fields, swimming pools, movie theaters, schools, churches and libraries.
The army housing area where we lived on Fort Sill was a series of one story duplexes. I don’t recall the family who shared our duplex, but across the street were the wild boys Lonnie and Ronnie and their older sisters. They were hellions and I recall getting my first strapping courtesy of their dad and with the permission of my parents for something unrecalled that I did with the wild bunch.
Living next to them on the other side of the duplex was a black family with a boy my age. I don’t recall his name, but we were friends and we played with his sizeable plastic army men collection regularly at each other’s houses until they moved.
Our duplex was on the corner lot and in the adjacent duplex building next to our house lived twins, two young girls, also in the third grade. We went to the same school at Fort Sill, but neither girl was in my classroom. The two blonde sisters next door were known to me, but we rarely socialized.
The girls living next door seemed to be the only kids on the block without a dad living at home in the military housing family neighborhood. Their father was in Vietnam.
One day my mother told me the girls’ dad was killed in Vietnam. She said the girls and their mother would have to move out of the duplex soon. I remember thinking it was strange that the girls had to leave their home so soon after their father had died.
As a kid it was difficult to comprehend the duplex on an army base in Oklahoma was not really their home. We were all brought together in that place at that time as part of the armed forces that included tens of thousands of family dependents in addition to the service men and women in active duty.
I asked my mother this Memorial Day 2010 what she remembered about the family next door at Fort Sill. She hadn’t thought of the woman in a long time. The thing she recalled was the neighbor lady gave her two wooden figurines of a woodcutter and his wife that still reside in my parents’ home. The serviceman’s widow gave these figurines to my mother as a thank you gift for helping take care of the girls after the loss of their father and helping her vacate their duplex at Fort Sill.
Military life is transitory.
A wooden memorial to a fallen soldier keeps a widow and her deprived children in my family’s hearts and minds more than forty years later.
Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have claimed the lives of more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Americans have been injured in the fighting this past decade. Most soldiers come home and carry on with the rest of their lives. Fortunate children grow old with their war veteran mothers and fathers.
Other soldiers do not return.
The casualties of war extend beyond the fighting men and women. There are the innocents who suffer loss. Widows, children, families and friends have memories and memorials.
I am remembering this Memorial Day.
I thought of the third grade girls as I read an LA Times story about the high kiddie tax on military survivor benefits for young children who have lost a parent in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the two other war stories caught my attention today.
Los Angeles Time – Critical decisions overwhelm those who lose spouses to war
AirForce Times - Families: Survivor benefits overlook some (More than 140 single parents, most women, have died in Iraq.)
San Jose Mercury News – Remembering a Fallen Daughter (And the war drags on…)