Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

For Memorial Day, 2008, I wanted to take advantage of the military presence here in the state of North Carolina. The state is home to many historic military units - the 82nd Airborne Division the most prominent among them - and there is a beautiful new museum in Fayetteville, NC highlighting the work of the Special Forces and Airborne Divisions of the United States Army. After a brief visit on the grounds of Fort Bragg and lunch on the base (Bradford loved that!), we were off to the museum.

Brad is standing on a monument that is made from the steel of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in New York City. A stark reminder of a dark moment in our nation's recent past. I explained what happened on September 11, 2001, and he wanted me to take a picture of him standing by this steel sculpture.

Here Bradford is sitting on a replica of the same airplane that the paratroopers who jumped into France on D-Day used. He wanted to sit there, and he kept talking about jumping out of airplanes. It was a good thing his mother wasn't there!

Bradford was very interested in the models who were soldiers. These were very well done. We enjoyed seeing them, and he wanted to take a picture with the soldiers. I told him they were not real soldiers, but he still wanted to take a picture with them.

Here he was listening to the actual verbal history of an historic mission by the Special Forces of the United States Army. He really enjoyed listening to them. They actually held his attention for quite a while.

There was a tremendous section showing the current work of the Special Forces serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the replica of an actual soldier who recently served in that region of the world. The entire museum was very well done and was a hub of sorts for military families. Two mothers were just in front of us as we observed the pictures and presentations of our nation's current war. There was a plasma television hanging on the wall with a slide show of some of the Special Forces. One mother told her son, Gabriel, "Look, son, there is Daddy." Several slides showed pictures of his father, and I was struck at the personal cost of this war to so many families.

I was grateful for them, and I admired their resilience and stamina to face daily life without their husbands. I could see that both mothers who obviously had husbands serving abroad drew strength from each other and the museum. For this I was grateful.

I could not help but think (and I attempted to share this with Bradford) that there is such a cost for war. My own father was a war hero - three bronze stars with valor. He served with General Douglas MacArthur (hence my name of Douglas), but he seldom spoke of his experiences in World War II. It was only after his death that I discovered his many medals - literally an entire drawer of them in his chest - and his many commendations. He was on the beaches of Normandy, and he also served in the Korean conflict. He was tough, rugged and my hero.

Most anyone who knows me knows that I deeply revere my father. He was born in rural Mississippi, and his father (my grandfather) was murdered when he was only three months old. My grandmother and her four children sharecropped and often worked for their evening meal. They were very poor and life was very difficult. When my father lied to join the Army at 16 in the year 1938, I'm sure he had no idea what awaited him.

He saw combat - the real stuff - hand to hand combat; he lost friends; he sent money back home to my grandmother. After the war, he quietly served another 10 years in the Army, retired, and went home to Louisiana. I was born when he was 45 years old, and I had the benefit of learning from his vast experiences in life. He was a humble man. He never prayed aloud in our church - even when asked. One day, I finally summoned enough courage to ask him why he would not pray aloud at church because he did pray beautiful prayers at every meal. He looked at me; his eyes filled with tears, and he said, "Son, I've killed many men." That is all he could say. He walked away from me. The conversation ended. The war changed him and marked him for life.

And so, I feel a special obligation to teach my son about the United States Armed Forces. To be sure, the United States is not a perfect nation, and it is very fashionable today to cast blame and deride those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. Yet, I cannot allow opportunities to pass (like Memorial Day) and not teach my boy about my Dad, his country, and the great sacrifice paid by so many we will never know. Few remember my father. No one in his family is currently living. I am the only survivor of my family. For most, he is a faceless statistic of the World War II generation that is slowly fading away.

If my Dad could see my boy today I wonder what he would think of it all - the museum, the exhibits, the artifacts. He would probably be embarrassed by all the attention that I would certainly give to him. I also know he would love my Bradford and want him to know of the history of this great nation that he loved so very much. My constant prayer is that I would be half the father my Dad was to me during the short time that I had him here on earth. I will never forget him, and I want my boy to know about his grandfather. What better place to teach him than a military museum? Each Memorial Day, I sense a special remembrance of Daddy (I called him that even as a teenager) and I still feel a certain loneliness without him. How I would have loved to have him with us as we walked through that museum. O the stories I bet he could tell.

I told Bradford as I left the museum that I wish his grandfather could see him now. Brad looked at me and said, "Daddy, where is your Daddy?" I told him with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven, and one day, God willing, we will all meet in that place because of Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection.

And in case you were wondering - you will always be able to find Bradford and me at most any military museum on any Memorial Day.

1 comment:

Uncle Rick said...

Doug thank you for that portal into your youth...I remember finding my father-in-laws medals...all he ever talked about was being a clerk typist...but with a Purple heart and Bronze stars hidden away. Don't let the youth forget what price was paid for the freedoms they enjoy today