This morning at ten in the Taftville Memorial Park, is a remembrance of Army SGT William Brault and then later, starting at noon at St Patrick's Cathedral on Broadway and making its way to Chelsea Parade for some speeching and remembering, it's the Veterans of Foreign Wars observances of Memorial Day. You have, wherever you live across the USA, the same type of observances ahead of you today as well. This is who we are and somewhere back there in the dust is that same small town in each of us and this is how we mark Memorial Day.
My Dad had a large family of all brothers. His older brother, my Uncle George, was in the military-I was never sure what branch. He wasn't actually my Uncle George, but he was my uncle. His real name was Michael but everyone in my father's family called him George, so we did , too, though I never knew why and I may have run out of people in my Dad's family to ask.
George, too, married 'local color' in the years immediately after the Second World War and his GI Bride, Mitzi, returned with him to Los Angeles, California, where he had settled down and worked for something we kids on the Eastern Seaboard couldn't grasp, a bottled water company. They had two children, both older than I, Nancy and Tommy. George only came East once and he visited with us at my parent's summer home in Harvey's Lake. My dad idolized him.
My father's kid brother, Jack, was in the Air Force. I never knew what he did but I remember he was stationed in Turkey and he visited us when we were living on Bloomfield Avenue in New Brunswick (not really; we lived in Franklin Township but always said New Brunswick unless kids from Brunswick were around because they'd mock us).
Jack and his wife, Alice, had a lot of kids, none of whom I remember meeting-I don't think I ever met Aunt Alice either. She died of cancer and Jack left the Air Force and settled down to be a coal miner in Illinois, living near his mom and his half brother, Father Jim, who was every one's half brother. He talked like he'd been a chaplain in the military at some point which worked when I was a kid but once I was in the Air Force I didn't think so.
My Mom's brothers, both younger, were in the Army when we had compulsory service but they had been volunteers. John fought in Korea at Hill 255. My mom used to tell a story about John and how he'd volunteered for the Army even though a cat had scratched his eye when he was a child, depriving him of most of the vision in one eye. During the physical, the docs made him stand at a distance from an eye chart, told him to cover his right eye and read one of the lines, which he did.
They then told him to cover his left eye and read another line. He switched hands but covered the same eye and they took him. He and Aunt Marion had all girls and were madly in love with them and one another until debilitating strokes stole his memories and most of who he was and then, years later, other illnesses caught up and killed him.
By the time Mom's other brother, Jim, died, all but one of her brothers and sisters were gone. Ann, from lung cancer, leaving a husband, Donald, whom we called Chief (he had red hair; I think that had something to do with the nickname) and four children, Donna, Diane, Donald (we called him Chip, as in off the old block (maybe?)) and Daria.
Mom's baby brother, Paul, who, with his wife (our Aunt) Marilyn, had moved to the West Coast (I never knew where) and had a large family none of whose names I can recall, died of cancer or leukemia or something else protracted and painful.
Paul was how our father met our mother. Back when he was a kid in high school with a lot of potential but terrible study habits, he used to get tutored by my Dad, when he'd show up after school, that is. On yet another day he blew off my father, Dad decided enough was enough and walked over to Paul's house to tell Paul's mother when she'd answer the door that her son was a goof-off. Instead Paul's sister answered the door and the smit hit the fan.
Jim served in the Honor Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (as it was called then) and was larger than life in our house in every way. He worked hard as a mechanic everyday of the life he built with Dot, who predeceased him, and with their three daughters, Patsy, Michelle and Dori, short for Dorothy (he called them Pat, Mike and Ike which was the inspiration for the names of our children).
When he died almost all of us accompanied my mother to his funeral in Maryland and for a sort-of reunion with his children that marked (for me) the first time I'd seen them since Sigrid and I came to the States in the late summer of '77 and I water-skied behind Jim's powerboat (not barefoot like my brother, Kelly, who was/is superbly coordinated and quite athletic) which impressed the hell out of my still-new bride.
Today is a day when we remember large moments and the small, quiet ones. Those who led our armed forces but more especially those who served in them and gave their lives so that we could live as we do. We are more than everyone we have ever known. We are, as a nation, everyone, throughout our history, who ever said 'send me' when there was a need to free the Colonies from the Crown, to preserve the Union, to stop aggression thousands of miles away from hearth and home and to maintain constant vigilance in the face of baleful, ignorant hatred by fanatical cowards.
For the last two hundred and thirty five years, we have been a nation of ordinary people who do extraordinary deeds everyday. Today is another of those days.