Memorial Day is set aside to remember American service members who died serving their country. This Memorial Day is important to me because it’s the 50thMemorial Day since my father died in combat in the jungles of Vietnam. I am not alone. 1968 was the height of U.S. losses, almost 17,000 service men came home in body bags that year. And this Memorial Day I am also the forgotten child of a soldier who earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. Forgotten by his mother and family.
One of the many fallouts of war happen long after the guns are silenced and the politicians count their gains and spin their stories of success. The fallen remain frozen in time as the rest of us are pulled forward into a present that constantly has a hole, a deep shadow of our missing loved one. Looking backward, that hole grows deeper every day, a widening gulf of events on the timeline where the fallen should have been. Meanwhile, my father remains eternally 26 years old, longing to return to his wife and daughter and work with his father on the family farm.
I read my grandmother’s will earlier this year. She died at the advanced age of 98. In it, she documented her family ties and legal heirs to her husband and son who predeceased her, the daughter, and her grandsons. And she intentionally omitted me, her only granddaughter. She knew me and she shunned me in the most final of ways.
We’d had a constant relationship over the years, corresponded, and we regularly told each other ‘I love you.’ Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but we had one. I was the reminder, what she had left to hold on to from her son. We lived a great distance apart, and she didn’t like to travel. I would come to her. The last time we were together was a happy meeting. We were in church together, had a tender conversation, and warmly embraced before we parted. The last words she spoke to me was that she loved me and was glad I came. I smiled and agreed. Many more cards and letters echoed the same.
I won’t attempt to explain my grandmother’s will or understand why my father’s family chose to dishonor and betray him by tearing my branch off the family tree. There’s no fixing this. I do wonder what my father would think. How would he react? Given how much he sacrificed, I can only imagine. On Memorial Day.