©Reflections of Memorial Day, by Patricia Feager, 5/25/2013
This is a day to honor those that serve and lay down their lives so that others may enjoy freedom. It is a day of reflection, an opportunity to give homage and respect to those families whose lives were changed because of the sacrifices and loss of loved ones. With cordial affection, I honor them.
I remember my grandfather. My mother told me as a young man, he bravely left his war torn country, his family and friends to come to America. He paid for his freedom by serving in World War 1. On Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and on the 4th of July he wore his uniform. My mother had a series of pictures of me climbing up her father’s pant leg, my arms were stretched up and he reached out to me. I sat on his lap. He wore his Army hat, uniform and boots. Although he didn’t smile, I could see in the photographs that he held me lovingly. I was one of several grandchildren. He was a protector, a gentleman, a butcher and a veteran. During the Great Depression he stood in bread lines to feed his family of eight. As a hobby, he raised canaries. He loved life and family.
My father served in the U.S. Navy during World War 11. He drank like a sailor, swore like a sailor, had tattoos but caused no harm. When I was a child, my father would reach out his muscular arm and he let me do pull-ups. Sometimes he stretched out both arms and two kids were doing pull-ups at the same time. We watched Popeye the Sailor Man a lot. Family life was fun but the Cold War was chilling. My father was vigil, he paid attention to the news; read the morning and evening newspapers daily. My father stayed current on worldly affairs. The streets of Chicago were filled with rioting and bad news. Mayor Daley ordered, “Shoot to Kill!” America was going through a different type of war with the Civil Rights Movement – people were dying on the streets. My father taught me to be brave.
When I was a kid, my second cousin was one of the earliest casualties in Viet Nam. He was older than me, but not that old! We played together. On Memorial Day, our families met at the Cottage by the Lake. We roasted marshmallows, hotdogs, and grilled hamburgers together. I remember his funeral and watching people cry. After that, I never felt like a kid again.
At 16 years old, I started writing letters to a Soldier in Viet Nam. I wrote corny letters about how nervous I was about taking exams, being bummed out because I missed the ball and cost the team a point in Volley Ball, making spaghetti and baking a cake for the very first time, going to school dances and writing him which songs I liked to dance to. They were really dumb letters. Yet he embraced them. He wrote me back. He told me to stay in school and to get as much education as I can. He reminded me how great America is – it’s nothing like the jungle. Listen to your parents and teachers, “They are not as bad as you think!” He told me how lucky I was to be home – home, all he wanted to do, was come home. He begged me to send him the crumbs from my cake. I did!
I will never forget the sound of TAPS being played at his funeral. He was my penpal from Viet Nam, my husband, the father of my children, the man who never saw them grow up or graduate, get married or know when his first and only granddaughter born. I honor and respect all those who serve.
On this Memorial Day Weekend, I reflect on my country, my past and the fact, that when it comes to Freedom, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too!”