Monday, May 30, 2011
Every year, my dad visits his father on Memorial Day.
He and my mom get up at an ungodly early hour and drive to the tippy top of New Jersey, just shy of the New York border. Usually a few of my siblings go along. Today we were all awakened at 6 a.m. by nature’s alarm clock, a thunderstorm, and I almost decided to tag along with the Memorial Day expedition. Dad likes to get there and back before the Jersey Shore Memorial Day exodus begins from all points north of the Driscoll bridge.
My parents drive to Mahwah, named for a Lenni Lenape word meaning “Place Where Paths Meet”, and go the mile or so off of the interstate to where Grandpa is.
Today they drove through the gates, but one year, when they were particularly early, they actually had to climb over the wall to get in. I wish I had been there to see that. My parents are really not wall-climber-overers, generally.
They drive through the meandering road, past the sloping lawns, to where Grandpa’s marker is...a small plaque set into the earth. Grandma is there, too. And Uncle John and Aunt Pat, but it is Grandpa my dad goes to see on this day.
After a moment of prayer, my dad takes out his cornet and plays Taps...the sound ringing out over the quiet cemetery in the early morning light. A solitary solute to a veteran, one of the greatest generation –a generation in which it was honorable for 4 brothers from New Jersey to ALL join the military. My great grandmother had four blue stars in her window. This boggles my mind.
I wish I could play the cornet. To me, this is the perfect memorial: a son with his bugle, playing for his dad a song of honor.
My grandfather never spoke of the war to me. Not once. Only when I joined a writing group in which one member was a World War II veteran working on a memoir did I get a sense of what my grandfather may have experienced. My writing colleague, Maurice, wrote in stunning detail about his time as a young soldier in France. He was infantry, my grandfather was Air Force, Maurice was 19, my grandfather was a mature 25 or so. Both served and then came home and lived and worked and did what needed to be done.
Just a few weeks ago, my friend Maurice was laid to rest. His memoir was published in the winter, and I am so very, very glad he lived to see it completed. I have a copy...and I so wish I had such a record of my grandfather’s history.
We must never forget. Even as we have fewer and fewer World War II vets to honor, we must never forget their sacrifices, or the heroism of our military in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Whatever our feelings about these conflicts, the young men and women who serve our country deserve our gratitude.
Our local paper today had a special section of photographs, all marking the final resting places of nearly all the Jersey boys killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. My heart is so full for these families, these young soldiers (some only 3 years older than my oldest child)...for them, we MUST never forget.
Thank you, veterans, for your service to our country.
Happy Memorial Day.