Each year we celebrate Memorial Day. The real Memorial Day, set aside to honor Civil War dead, is May 31.
[Surprise, it wasn’t designed as yet another holiday to have a ^%$#&@* mattress sale! Not that I have strong opinions about that.]
As the Civil War receded in history, other wars claimed their victims, and the collective memory dimmed, Memorial Day became a day to remember all the departed and to especially honor all those who served in the military.
Neither my father nor my wife’s father died as a result of military service; but when I say neither gave his life for his country, I am not telling a complete truth, and I think we ought to honor them on Memorial Day.
Both served in the army. My father was in ROTC in college, and was drafted in the late 1930’s, before the United States entered the world war. He served until the end of WW II, and then, because he was an “unattached reserve officer” served another 18 months during the Korean Conflict.
Both of these events disrupted the life he envisioned for himself as a chemical engineer who began his work life in the laboratory at a large chemical company and created processes that the company patented. After the war he did not go back into research; too much had happened in the intervening years.
Despite the disruption in his life, he believed in the United States, he worked very hard to raise his family, and he instilled my sister and me with standards that he valued: hard work, patriotism, love of family.
He was discharged from the army for the second time in 1952, and got on with his life, first as an entrepreneur and then as a salesman. He loved his family, remained faithful to my mother, and worked hard to support us - and when we had grown, to support her. He attended church, he belonged to appropriate men’s clubs, he paid his taxes (and complained about them), and he lived a good life.
He is buried in the military cemetery in Chatanooga, TN.
My father-in-law also served in the army, but on the front lines in Italy and North Africa. When he was discharged at the end of WW II, he suffered from shell shock according to all reports. The family did not acknowledge mental illness then - not even PTSD - because it was considered shameful. And years later when he had to have a leg amputated, my mother-in-law wouldn’t take him out because of the shame she associated with any kind of illness.
His sister helped my father-in-law through the rough times and occasionally she spoke of horrible nightmares and subsequent long nights in 24-hour movie theaters because he could not sleep. I’m not sure how he managed to overcome (or work through) his problem. But he turned himself around and became a teacher, then a principal, and a good one. I can’t think of a better description of a career in public school teaching than “giving his life for his country.” He is buried in a small cemetery in Kane, IL, with my mother-in-law, and my son’s ashes.
Like my father, my father-in-law loved his family, paid his taxes (also complaining), and worked hard. He retired to a small farm in the heartland of Illinois.
Sometimes, it seems to me, when we honor veterans, especially those who have died, they turn into a kind of faceless mass. Thus, it’s important that we remember the people who gave their lives to this country in so many different ways as individuals.
Today I honor two of them: my father Daniel R. Moser; and my father-in-law, H. Eugene Butler.
As always feel free to comment below.