He showed up in his shorts, flip-flops, and tee-shirt ready, as he said, “To party-hearty and enjoy the Memorial Day fireworks.”
I waited until he had finished his litany of expected festivities. “Do you think that is what Memorial Day is for?”
“Well yeah,” he said. Then he cocked his head. “Ain’t it?”
“No,” I said. “It should be a day of somber reflection.”
“A day that we remember those who died after they answered their country’s call for military service during times of war.”
“Oh, gross,” he said.
“Go change clothes,” I said. “We’re taking a trip.”
An hour later we were at our city’s military cemetery on the east side of town. It was quiet. Most folks were attending a large festival nearby. A few solitary souls were wandering the grounds. Some stood quietly in front of one of the white tombstones. A small group was placing flags on each one. It was a peaceful, lonely place.
“Lookit,” C.W. said, pointing to a man who was kneeling before one of the graves. Before I could stop him, he had raced over and stood beside the man, a well-dressed figure appearing to be well into his eighties.
Miraculously, C.W. took this opportunity to show both restraint and respect. He stood silently until the man looked up in greeting.
“Is this someone you knew?”
The man nodded. “We served together on the old Nevada.”
“What’s an Old Nevada?”
“It was a battleship.”
“How old was he?”
“He had just turned eighteen. We both had.”
“How did it happen?”
“The ship came under attack and we were on our way to our battle stations when a bomb hit near us.”
“He died there?”
“No, he was the only one that wasn’t hurt.”
C.W. looked confused.
“He carried the rest of us to a safe location, one by one.”
“After he saw that I was safe, he checked the group and saw that one of us was still missing.”
“When he went back that time, he never returned.” The man lowered his head and sobbed.
I was watching, proud of C.W. who waited until the man had regained his composure.
“I’m so sorry,” C.W. said. “It must have been hard on you to lose a shipmate.”
The man looked up at him through reddened eyes. “A shipmate?”
“Yes sir. A shipmate.”
“A shipmate yes. A hero, yes. But more. He was my sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening, a gentle breeze across my cheek on a tropical evening, and the beauty of the ocean’s roll on a following sea. I have missed him every day for over 71 years. I would have gladly given all those years for one more touch of his soft hand.” He began to cry again.
“Gee,” C.W. said. “Did he win a medal?”
|Seems to me that war is crappy enough|
without getting the bigots involved. - C.W.
“No,” the man said quietly. “Before the attack, we were both scheduled to be cashiered from the navy. His name was hardly ever mentioned afterwards. They wouldn’t have buried him here except that his family had some influence.”
“That don’t hardly seem fair.”
“The world is not fair, my son,” the man said as he stood. “And war even less so. Now if you will excuse me, I have a plane to catch.” He walked away on unsteady legs to where a taxi waited.
As C.W.came to where I stood, I couldn’t help asking, “Did you learn anything?”
“Shut up,” he said, and I swear he had tears in his eyes.