For much of my life remembering the war dead on Memorial Day has been about those lost during WWII or the Vietnam War. It was easier when I was younger to balance a plate of barbecue while watching a parade of war veteran’s marching to honor fallen comrades. It was more distant then, less personal.
There were stories of course like those I heard about my great-uncle Hugh Lee, who died in France during WWII, but nothing close enough to affect me personally. Having died years before I was born, it was my father and my great-grandmother who talked about him the most and made him more to me than just a name on a gravestone in the family plot.
Gratefully, he was the last in our immediate family to die in service and while my father and I both spent time in the Army, neither of us were faced with military conflict.
At fifty, I struggle to read the news reports of war related deaths especially when I see that some of the people dying are my daughter’s age or younger. I can’t imagine their parent’s grief. I don’t want to know how that feels.
What I do know is how important the stories we share are no matter if they happen at the cemetery or over a plate of barbecue. I won’t be doing either today, no visits to war memorials and no family gatherings with food or conversation, but I will remember and not just my family.
I’ll spend some time today with the stories I usually can’t bear to read because this is a day for remembering and for acknowledging the loss that some people can never forget.
Here’s one of my stories from last year. If you have a link to one you’d like to share, feel free to leave it in a comment below.
Captain Eleanor Grace Alexander died on November 30 1967 in a plane crash in Binh Dinh, South Vietnam. I did not know anything about her until I made a point to find out who she was and how she died after seeing her name at the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. Eleanor Grace Alexander was one of eight active duty women who died during that war. She was 27 and unmarried.
Born the same year as my mother she would have been 70 on September 18 had she survived. Having read first hand accounts from people who knew her and several who served with her including Rhona Marie Knox Prescottwho wrotethis moving letterwhich is part of the Veteran’s History Project in the Library of Congress, I am grateful there was a record so that some of my questions could be answered.
As an American child of the sixties, it was the Vietnam War that was the backdrop of my daily life with body counts and war updates delivered each night by men like Walter Cronkite of CBS news. Sadly we are still at war, still fighting, and still burying the dead. Although we do battle in different countries now, the result is the still the same for many and unless your life has been touched directly by loss it can be easy to forget why we recognize Memorial Day, why it’s more than a precursor to summer fun and pool side parties. I’m guilty of forgetting in the past, of treating the three-day weekend that leads into Memorial Day as a much needed respite from a too full life. What I hope to never forget is that I’ve had a chance to live the life I have thanks in part to men and women who died in wars long before I was born.