When I was a child, every year, Dad would raise Geraniums and Dusty Millers for the graves of my grandparents and the brother I never knew.
My parents were not much for sharing family stories. I’m not sure why. Photos of Mom are of a happy child who dressed up in costumes and must have had some relationship with the theater, but she never said.
Dad had a story of how his father brought home a circus pony for a winter, and Dad told the story of how he fell off the bucking pony and lost his love of riding afterwards.
What I did piece together over years of many questions, was that Dad was born on a farm, but his parents lost their farm in the Great Depression.
I think maybe those hard years are why my parents were not much for sharing family stories. Still there are some things I treasure. Grandpa drove a horse drawn mail carrier. I have the photo. He loved horses, and always wanted Morgans.
Dad was a World War II vet who never made it overseas because of bad ankles from being a premie. His parents put him in a shoe box on the kitchen stove, and against all odds he survived. Dad spent his Army time stateside managing medicines as he was a trained pharmacist. That did not get him out of KP duty though, he used to say.
Mom was a simple woman who loved Jesus, her husband, and her family. She kept an immaculate house, made Kool-Aid for all the neighbor kids who used to drop in summers, and made me go to church in spite of myself. I honor her most for her example of self-discipline and spiritual devotion.
I don’t have military dead from my own family to honor, because we weren’t a military family. But I do have military dead among people whom I loved in life, before they left me.
Bill Brayton was a cavalry man in the Philippines in WWII. He taught me how to long rein a horse.
Joe Hopkins and his wife Dotty were two of the kindest people I ever knew. Joe was in Boot Camp with Dad, but he fought all the way through D-Day into Germany. He never spoke of it.
Donald Victor Petacchi was my Gurdjieff teacher for a time. He fought Japan, and made his way up to Alaska as a hobo to prospect for gold. He was seeking the family fortune, and that’s where he found the Gurdjieff work.
Those World War II vets were made of stern and special stuff. They lived at a time when the military men of our country still received honor from its citizens. I like to think they knew what they were fighting for, that there were clear human ideals that needed addressing. Reasons for the wars since then have seemed rather muddy to me. There are too many Republican politicians invested in manipulating other countries to get their oil. (See John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man).
But I don’t want to take honor away from anyone who is invested in serving our country. I cannot blame the vets who supported causes I might not believe in. I respect their willingness to risk their lives and their sanity for a cause greater than their own.
Creator, we the living have a duty for honoring the dead, especially those whose integrity gave us reasons to try to be better people ourselves. Salute to the military dead, those whom I know and those whom I do not know, for your willingness to fight for a cause. Salute now too, to those whose lives have been lost to this hidden virus. Guide the COVID dead home, Creator! Help us to honor the memories of men and women who may or may not have fulfilled their life’s calling.