Memorial Day: More than a parade and flag waving

For hours they held each other in their bed. The alarm rang at 3:45 a.m. Soon, they would be on route to the nearby regional airport for a 6:45 a.m. flight. At the Transportation Security Administration entrance, she turned and mouthed “I love you” as she headed to the flight taking her to San Antonio. Then, a flight to serve at an overseas front line military hospital.

Sixteen months later this Air Force nurse, who departed as a first lieutenant, arrived back home as a captain. Her conversations with close family members and friends were select and hushed in detail – the good, the bad, and the sad.

It was 1971, there was a knock on the front door. A messenger slipped the yellow Western Union envelope into a mother’s trembling hands. Her shout was implicit with a solemn “No” followed by uncontrollable sobbing. Her husband held her close with tears running down his face.

The flight arrived at the gate from the Philadelphia International Airport. From the flight deck, the captain asked for passengers to remain seated for five minutes as they unloaded a special cargo. The crew and passengers looked out their port side windows and saw a stainless steel, flag-draped casket come off the baggage belt to an awaiting black Ford van. Two white gloved Marines snapped to attention along with the ground crew rendering a hand salute or hand over their heart. The solider was back home heading to a rural Michigan city.

The official letter arrived informing the family that the Hawaiian-based military forensic laboratory identified the Korean War-era body remains and scant clothing as her late brother. The agony resurfaced but closure came.

A group of 8-to-12-year-old youth frequently rode their bicycles through the neighborhood. Late this summer evening, they opted to ride through one of the community’s cemeteries. One of the youths saw low moss-covered head stones in a distinctive row. The group stopped and a 10-year-old girl walked over and read the top of the markers displaying the years 1863 and 1864. She turned and said to the group, “I know what this means. They were heroes from America’s civil war.”

The Veteran’s Administration counselor slowly put the telephone receiver back into the cradle. Her face buried into her hands where she murmured to herself, “I lost another good Afghanistan serving Marine who ended his life. I tried. Damn it.”

She was an American history professor at a local college. She opted to attend a special ceremony at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. He grandfather was in attendance wearing a red Tuskegee Airman’s hat and her father a blue Desert Storm hat. She heard accounts of tremendous bravery and saw love amongst those in attendance.

Veterans returned to American soil from many battle fronts wondering why they “made it” and Croswell, Kane, Johnson, LeBlanc and others did not. It was a personal mind-gnawing thought which would never go away.

The framed three corner American flag, Purple Heart and bronze star, along with a 3-by-5 framed faded color photo of a young sailor rested on a living room shelf. This collection has been there since 1991. A 14-year-old son asked his father to tell me more about Michael, the hospital corpsman.

When serpent’s mouth of war opens, it devours thousands of brave men and women whose names and faces are shown on community, cemetery and houses of worship plaques and walls across America’s states, territories and communities.

This Monday, May 27, we honor those who gave their “ultimate,” as well as the nation’s 17 million plus living veterans. Alone, Michigan has over 568,000 living veterans.

The parade and flag waving again occurs. These accounts are some of the reasons why.

Cherish the liberty they gave you.

The bugle played taps. Hand salutes were rendered.

Jeffrey D. Brasie is a retired health care CEO and frequently writes historic feature stories and op-eds. He grew up near the tip of the mitt and resides in suburban Detroit. He served in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Navy Reserve and was on the secretary of the navy’s public affairs staff.


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