I have been thinking about what this day means and how it is celebrated for several days now. I have personally celebrated this day for as long as I can remember. It was always a terribly important day when I was young…ALWAYS a parade…ALWAYS. Always a trip to the cemetery and making certain there was a flag on my Grandfather’s grave.
You see my grandfather, who I never knew, served in World War I.
My father (his son) was a B17 pilot in World War 2. I remember looking through the scrapbooks that my mother compiled over the months before he went overseas, the months and months that he trained and the hardships they were facing.
I guess the reason I have been thinking about this day so much more than I normally do is because of the politically correct postings on Facebook and elsewhere explaining and directing us on who is actually to be remembered on Memorial Day.
I know that as we celebrate Memorial Day, we are to honor and commemorate those military who lost their lives in the service of our country. But as I reflected on my dad and his service and what I have come to know about the men who flew in the Mighty Eighth Air Force, I wonder how many times he faced death, watched those around him die, and got up early the next day to face it once again. I wonder how many times he faced the ultimate sacrifice, and after doing so, went on to do it once more.
My dad never talked about his 35 missions much, in fact seldom. When he talked about being “over there” he would relay stories about his cocker spaniel Flak, or the name of his B17…Star Eyes. He always said that his plane was named after my mom and her eyes. He also reminisced about reaching the White Cliffs of Dover and knowing he was almost safely home. Home…a military hut in pastoral England.
I now wonder how many times on Memorial Day, and every other day, he thought about the many moments that he had faced death and uncertainty. I wonder what his thoughts were as he watched his comrades fall from the sky. Nearly 90.000 airmen lost their lives in the war. I’ve read that on missions these crews were so busy in the air, that there was no time to be scared. They may not have been scared when they were busy, but I can almost visualize their thoughts as they sat in their next briefing.
He was a kid really, barely 20 years old. He became a pilot and a leader, responsible for a crew of 10.
The missions were long, averaging 8 hours. The missions were cold and it was difficult to have any semblance of warmth at 25000 feet. The cabins were unheated and the temperature would drop to 60 degrees below zero. They wore heated suits and gloves, that more often than not did not work particularly well. They wore oxygen masks and as they neared their targets they put on 30 pound flak jackets for protection. Parachutes were too cumbersome to be worn.
Then of course, there was always that unspoken knowledge that there was a 30% chance on any given day they would not return home.
I have been reading a lot lately that Memorial Day is set aside to commemorate those in the military who have lost their lives for this nation and that Veterans Day is to commemorate all veterans who have served and who are serving.
The defined difference:
Memorial Day is for remembering those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle, according to the Veterans Administration. Veterans Day is set aside to thank and honor all those who served in the military – in wartime and peace. The day does honor veterans who have died but is largely intended to thank living veterans for their service.
I do know the difference.
I do commemorate my dad on both days.
Anyone who serves in the military, anyone who faces the ultimate sacrifice once or again and again, anyone who has at some point experienced survivors guilt, anyone who resumes life surrounded by those who cannot relate to their war time experience, deserves this and every Memorial Day.
So today I offer my tribute to all military who have lost their lives in the service of our country, as well as to those who were and are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, I offer a special and heartfelt tribute and accolade to my dad.