Memorial Day symbolized many things growing up. It was the end of the school year, and the traditional beginning of summer. It really took a long time - too long - for me to fully appreciate of what Memorial Day really meant.
I have never lost a relative or close friend in service to the county. In the early 1950's my closest uncle missed the Korean War, at least in part because he spoke french - albeit the Cajun kind. It was enough, however, that instead of deployment to the Korean Peninsula, he was sent to Germany. While stationed there, when not repairing vehicles in the motor pool, he was shuttling officers to France and translating in his provincial french.
My father did his military service as an officer in the Army Medical Corp stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana in the early 1960's. His closest brush with combat came during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when I was 3 years old. To this day my mother recalls it vividly.
I have a nephew who will be a junior at the Air Force Academy this coming fall. He has a 6 year commitment to the Air Force when he graduates in 2018. He will be a credit to the service.
In 1970 the church my family attended gave members a list of servicemen who were serving in Vietnam. The church asked Christmas cards be sent. I picked a name out at random, addressed it and mailed the Christmas greeting to that far off place. It was a simple card. To my surprise, the serviceman wrote back, thanking me for the card and illustrating in the margins a drawing of a soldier that would have made Bill Mauldin proud. I have thought about that letter over the years, and, of course, the serviceman who wrote it. I imagine him writing and drawing that letter to me all those years ago. I see him sometimes with pen in hand, kick back while on leave in a Saigon sidewalk cafe. Other times, I see him in my minds eye scratching away while "in country," hunkered down in a rice paddy and rain pelting down.
I do not know what happened to him.
To the men and women, their families who gave so much, I try and remember today what Lincoln said more than a century ago: "[F]rom these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion"