Today, as Memorial Day approaches, I am thinking of all those memories that I have of Memorial Days past. I have memories of my life on that small farm just outside of Defiance, Iowa, in the 50’s and 60’s, of how my mother was so dedicated in remembering loved ones who had gone before and were buried in the local Catholic church cemetery. My mother grew and loved flowers. Every Memorial Day, she would go out to her flower garden and pick roses, lilacs, peonies, irises, bridal wreath, plum blossoms and anything else she could find on our property, bring them into the house, and begin arranging them in vases in preparation for taking them to the cemetery to decorate the graves of my father, my sister, my grandparents, etc. The combination of the scents of all these flowers in the house made my head spin, and today, every time I catch the scent of one of these flowers, my head spins all over again. Then, when the actual day arrived, we would attend Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church after which we would walk to the cemetery behind the church where taps were played and all those local men and women who served and died were remembered with our version of the 21-gun salute.
Ah, the men and women who served and died. Soon after that experience of my youth, my brother, Rus, was drafted into the army (1967) and was sent to Viet Nam. My mother was stressed beyond belief. She sent many prayers heavenward for his safety. Like a miracle, her prayers were answered. Rus’s hand was instinctively raised when a commanding officer asked if anyone in the crowd could type. He spent his year in Viet Nam as a clerk typist, which was probably the safest job any soldier could have. As for my own story, I had the student deferment, as did Rus, until I graduated from college three years later, 1970, the first year that they randomly drew birthdates to see who would be the first to be drafted. My birthdate, April 20, was drawn #345 out of 365. My mother’s prayers were answered once again. I would not have to serve if I didn’t want to
Of course, the real story is that of those who were sent into the battlefield in past wars and gave the ultimate sacrifice, which is the reason Memorial Day was instituted. I knew of one such young man, one I met during my years in 4-H work in my high school days. His name was Roger Carroll. I even stayed overnight at his parent’s house once, and ran into him on the campus of Iowa State once or twice. I later found his name imprinted on the Viet Nam memorial in Washington, D.C. Of course, there have been hundreds of thousands of others. I salute them all today for their courage. The ultimate sacrifice … I can barely fathom it. I read the autobiography of a fraternity brother who also served, but returned in one piece. His stories of the battlefields of Viet Nam sent chills down my spine.
The photograph accompanying this post shows a touching memorial. I discovered it while strolling around the cemetery of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, my daughter’s community in Waukesha, Wisconsin, this past weekend. I found it on the grave of Sister Mary Angela, someone I met some years ago and taught me some of the faith principles of the community. I don’t know if she had a family member who served, but regardless, we should all have such a prayer on our lips on this Monday upcoming. God bless all the men and women currently serving in the military. Amen!