Yesterday we observed Memorial Day in our customary manner: we sat near our campfire and talked of the times we sat with family by similar fires at Joe’s Woods in Pennsylvania. Joe Maciak bought the woods years ago for three hundred dollars. At the time, before larger highways, it was better than an hour drive south of Erie, where Joe and his family lived. Joe’s father had asked him, in Polish, “What are you going to do with this, Joe?” It became a place for Joe to take his two boys to hunt. It became a gathering place for immediate and extended families, some camping the weekend, others dropping by during the daytime.
Joe’s Woods is too far for us to go for Memorial Day now. But sitting near the creek that runs behind us, looking at flames licking at the trees overhead, we think of those days. “It’s s’pose to rain,” I said to my wife yesterday. And true enough, many of those Memorial Days at the Woods would be cold with drizzle and often moderate rain. The rain didn’t stop us, though. My wife’s cousin, Archie, would be up early building his famous Archie fire, a rival to the best campfire anywhere. My wife’s father and his brother would be up early too, if to do nothing other than encourage Archie in his efforts, and enjoy the warmth and company.
Fourteen years ago we missed Memorial Day at the Woods. Joe lay dying on a bed in his living room that weekend, with his family all around him. He died early in the morning when Archie would have been building a fire. When attendants from the funeral home carried him out the front door of the house, an American flag waved its proud goodbye as he passed beneath, another American sailor, a veteran of the Korean “Conflict,” passed from this earth.
So yesterday our American flag waved gently in the breeze as the flames of our fire reach toward Heavenward. But it didn’t rain– in the morning. It was warm, humid. Yet it was Memorial Day, and it was okay. I mentioned to my wife that Memorial Day is to commemorate American men and women who lost their lives in war. I told her about a friend of mine, John, who didn’t die in Viet Nam, but. . .
John and I met while I was at Camp Roberts and he at Camp Hunter-Leggit, which is located some miles north of Roberts. He lived with his wife and newborn boy in the other half of a duplex where I lived, in central coast town of Paso Robles, California. We became friends. John was on limited duty at Leggit, still hurting from wounds received in ‘Nam. He told me one day that he’d been in country [in Viet Nam] only four months when, while on point in front of his infantry company, he was hit by sniper fire. In a very quick “dust off,” he’d been evacuated to a field hospital, where surgeons cut him open from his neck to his belly, from side to side, patching him up enough to get him back to the next hospital.
Eventually he was Stateside. Months later, somewhat rehabilitated, he was assigned to an infantry company at Leggit, where war games were played testing new equipment and tactics. While still assigned infantry, he worked in supply, and enjoyed it. After John’s two-years were up, he “re-upped”–re-enlisted–and along with his family went to Germany. Once there, he was returned to infantry, but was able to move into supply fairly quickly. Three years later, John was re-posted to Fort Ord, a few hours north of Paso Robles. I saw him several times up there. He was still having trouble with his war wounds, still having surgeries to remove stuff: bone chips, metal fragments, scar tissue. He had not been able to be permanently transferred into a supply position. Eventually, he and his wife decided not to re-up, to get out of the army. They moved back to Paso Robles because they liked the area, even though their parents were in southern California. John found a job on a ranch in beautiful Shandon, just east of Paso.
In early 1980 I left the service and Camp Roberts behind, heading to Arizona for a communications technician job on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. On the way out of California, I passed through Shandon one last time to visit John and family and see the house they were building themselves. His work on the ranch was hard, but he enjoyed it, and the rancher liked him. His side and chest still hurt from places that just didn’t heal well, I recall him saying. I lost track of John and his wife and kids after that, which I regret. I thought of them on occasion, remembered them, and hoped the best for them. A few months ago I did a Google search for John, and learned that he’d died in 1986, just a few years after I’d last seen him.
As I told this to my wife yesterday, I thought of her father who’d died from cancer, of my father who’d died after suffering with Parkinson’s Disease for ten years, of my grandfather who died of cancer. All served in an American war. Both my grandfather and father served in two wars. They lived through the wars. They came home. They survived. Even their wounds healed without much of a trace, unlike John’s, who’d never take his shirt off in public for the scars left behind. But could their deaths have been linked to there battles? We know now that Viet Nam vets exposed to “agent orange,” a defoliant said to be so safe, are dying from it. I thought just how much war affects our culture, our way of live, from the loss of men and women in battle itself, to the debilitating affect it has upon those who “survive” for a time afterward.
And Rain. Here’s the thing about rain on Memorial Day. Rain is a symbol of renewal, of rebirth. Isaiah 55:10 says: “. . . the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater. . .” Rain is physical and emotionally necessary to life. Rain is cleansing, both physically and emotionally. I wish rain would fall on all of our holidays, both physically and symbolically, that we as Americans would think deeply of cost of our way of life, our unique American culture. And also of the cost to this way of life. We’ve lost not only men and women in battle, but to those battles. I pray that their lives are not lost in vain. And I think about all those who served America in defense of liberty and freedom, and the cost to them, for it is a cost we all share greatly.
Today, we are hated around the globe for what we have, and have done, in this world. Once we had a political will, and a political leadership, that proudly stood in support of our Constitution that explains our liberty, our rights. Our leadership stood firm also on Biblical precepts. We were one nation, under G-d. Sadly, our political leadership has been infiltrated by people with an ideology that would strip away the very things that made fertile the ground from which free men and free women have grown and thrived. The new wave of American political correctness, of Constitution bashing, of liberty stripping, is diverting the rain, and the drought that is upon America is grave. As has been said so many times before, if we forget what has come before, we inevitably repeat it.
On Memorial Days to come, let us not only remember those lost in battle, but be reborn with a rain of understanding for what they fought, for what they lost their lives. Let us remember, as our liberties are berated, that only the American Revolution was fought directly for our own liberty; all other battles were fought on behalf of others whose liberty and freedom had been taken or threatened. If we as Americans let our liberties slip away, who will there be left to defend us? Who will stay the hand of tyrants?
Accenting my thoughts yesterday, it rained lightly in the afternoon, and last night it rained heavily.
Lord Bless, Keep, Shine. . .