For my family Memorial Day wasn't a day to go shopping, have picnics or cookouts, it was a day where we went to the village parade and perhaps a visit to the cemetery. Ours was a bit different than many but my father was also a World War II veteran of the Pacific Campaign. This young New Hampshire boy was sent to the Pacific after his conscription and basic training to fight the enemies of the day as a sharp shooter. He received for his actions 2 purple hearts, a sharp shooters medal and other badges or medals.
Rain or shine, warm or cold we would head to the Village's main street to watch the parade. TV wasn't good enough for my father. He had to be there in person. As I matured I understood why a little more each year.
He was relaxed when the high school band passed by, as well as the floats, the clowns and all the rest, but one. Whether it was the Veterans or active duty personnel in their cars or marching passed, Dad stood straight and still. When the procession came to a stop, in town square, he stood taller still. All 5 feet 8 inches stood at attention even in his early 60's when that was not as easy as it had been in the past due to his arthritis. Before any command had been given to those poising their rifles to fire the blanks in salute, Dad was standing saluting at perfect attention. Only once did I see a tear roll down his cheeks as “Taps” was played.
Dad saluted his buddies long gone to the grievous situation that is war. Dad never celebrated war, never watched war films, and never put on his medals. He didn't salute the flag, he saluted his friends memory. He felt too strongly the ache and pain that goes with war. Watching his friends taken by enemy fire or the results of stepping on mines even 30 plus years later was all too fresh in that ginger haired man's mind.
On Memorial Days, Dad took special care when putting our flag out for display. He was always a little slower, whether it was at the house with the tall flag pole or at the house with the front porch flag. Dad never wore jeans. Only in the hottest weather would he wear just trousers and a T-shirt. My father always wore trousers, a button down shirt and was always clean and well groomed in public. On Memorial Day he made doubly sure that his good trousers and shirt were pressed and his shoes polished. His hair kept the crew cut of those early army years. He made sure for them, his fallen friends, he was presentable enough to honour their memory. It was a kind of ritual for him every year that extra bit of attention he paid to his already well groomed person. I remember him tying his shoes very thoughtfully as he finished getting ready.
Off we would go to the parade. Sometimes he would bring a chair for me to sit on, but as I grew older I chose not to sit. We would always be early for the event and Dad chose the corner of the high street always. He wore no flag pin, no tie, nothing that outwardly showed the memories that must have been pacing to and fro in his mind.
Was it the young man from New York City that had stepped on a mine and left this world just feet from where Dad was about to step? Was it the fellow with the odd accent he liked so much that was taken out by a sniper that beyond hot day in the islands? Was it his friends who died in hospital from their wounds? Or was it the ones he watched fade from life in his company's hands as they dodged hell and bullets on those tiny islands? It was all of them, every single one my Dad was recalling although you could never tell it from the outside.
His slender build made him appear even taller as he stood to perfect attention. His salute crisp and rigid as the 21 gun salute took aim, then fired. Held strong and steady his salute remained, his stance stronger as “Taps” was played it's slow melody of “sleep in peace soldier boy.” As the company was dismissed from their part of the services in the parade, Dad too would go back to being Dad. Still tall for his 5 foot 8 inches. His demeanor a little different always with a hint of “I remember you” as we walked on home. His countenance quiet as he rarely spoke of “The War.”
Dad didn't have to speak about it on those Memorial Days, it was written in every inch of his being. He Remembered.