I often wonder if I could actually do what a soldier does. Could I lay down my life for my fellow man or country? Would I run towards the fight or would I run away? Am I strong enough to handle the aftermath?
It takes a certain type of person to become a soldier. It isn’t for the weak or faint of heart. Mentally, they are strong. Physically, they endure. Characteristically, they are faithful…..even to the end.
Growing up, I got to see both the good and bad side of being a soldier. The two models were my grandpa and daddy.
My grandpa was a good man, a family man, a church man. He had a lot of patience and enough love to cover the earth. (Personally, I believe we got the best part of him growing up.)
He made sure the flag was always flown and half staff when needed. However, he didn’t talk much about his experience. What we learned was from our parents. Yet, his actions and ethics were a reflection of what was instilled into him during his time of service. While in the service, he learned to sew. This trade allowed him to open his own upholstery shop and become sole provider for his family. His shop remained open until he succumbed to the effects of diabetes.
Faith, family, God….that was my grandpa. He took great pride in his work and family. He would look for the good in people and helped out those less fortunate. He shattered the barrier of racism and demonstrated to us that we are all equal.
Many fond memories of my grandpa were being at the shop with him. I would usually be playing with the button maker and sliding on his work table. Often enough, there would be a knock on the frame of the opened door. Is “Mr. Richard” here? Each time it would be an African American looking for work. They would take off their hat before entering the shop and just wave hi to me. Grandpa wouldn’t have any cars outside but always found something for them to do. I once asked, “Who are they grandpa?” He would simply reply, “Good people looking for work.”
As I look back at the early years with my father, I can recall the scars of war and the honor that drove him. Growing up, daddy was this strong man with muscles and big hands. His back was strong and he had skin like leather from the years of sun.
He would work long hours to make sure we had what we needed and go without just so that we did. He rarely refused the opportunity to help someone in need. He has always been proud of his children even during the moments when we turned his world upside down. He instilled into us that family sticks together and looks out for each other. That was his military thinking.
He was always a hard working man and a heavy drinker. Daddy had his demons. Vietnam would creep back into his mind and sometimes overpower him, especially late at night.
One night in particular stays forever etched in my mind. I was no more than ten years old when daddy came crawling across the floor. I hugged my little sister and told her to go back to sleep. I held her tight, scared daddy wouldn’t recognize us and maybe hurt us. I whispered to her to be quiet and don’t move. This was the first and only time I was ever scared of my daddy.
I watched in fear as he crawled on his belly to the other side whispering, “Shhh, they’re here.” I was scared and yelled out, “Dad, what are you doing? You’re scaring me!” He stopped, looked up at me and got off the floor. I remember him looking at me with this blank stare and said everything was OK as he walked out the room.
However, I didn’t know if he was OK. I laid there awake and on guard. Finally, when I got up to look for him, there he was, sitting at the table, hunched over and sobbing. He kept asking for forgiveness. I quietly snuck back to my room and eventually fell asleep.
I don’t know who he was seeking forgiveness from. Was it God, himself or from his fellow comrades that didn’t come back? It took several years for daddy to deal with his demons, even after my grandparents insisted and offered to get help. The only way he knew how to cope was by drowning out the memories and whatever he carried.
Today he has made his peace with himself and God. He no longer drinks. He has finally laid his comrades to rest. Though he let them go, they are not forgotten. What haunted him for years, no longer has any power over him.
Though he let them go, they are not forgotten.
Each year, he arrives early for every Memorial Service to honor those who have gone before him. He stays long after it is over. Often enough, he would drift off into his memories leaving me wondering what he was thinking.
Sometimes, I would catch a glimpse of him crying or us looking aimlessly for the headstones his fellow Marines and my grandpa. Once we would find them, he would keep their memories alive by telling us stories of the fallen comrades. Then the moment of silence would begin again.
My families service and daddy’s personal battles have instilled into me the strength, thankfulness, and admiration of each person who lost their lives serving the military. They didn’t have to serve. They chose to serve, so that I could have the freedom that I have today.
In the battle cry of the United States Marine Corps, Oorah!