I like to think of myself as patriotic, but as I said to my friend Ed, then why am I always getting out of jury duty?
He told me how he watched a film that had a platoon of soldiers placing an American Flag on every grave at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. How they use their boot to space them just right. Just hearing about it put a lump in my throat.
It’s hard not to have love and respect for the military whether it’s past or present. I think I may have watched Ken Burn’s film Civil War a hundred times never failing to be moved and humbled at the built-in bravery of such young men.
I remember after the first time I saw it writing to Mr. Burns at his home in Walpole, New Hampshire asking why was I so affected over a war that happened so long ago.
If you see the history of a country in the same way you see the life of an individual, then the Civil War was the great traumatic event in our collective childhood…
I really got that. In other words, we’re connected by the valor of our predecessors inheriting their wounds.
My father served in the Air Force during World War II. I have letters he wrote to my mother that would break your heart…how lonely he was, how much he missed her. He longed for a home cooked meal, a beer and a stroll with her on a Sunday afternoon.
She was 17, he 20.
I had to dig them out for this essay sobbing for a long while despite my father being dead for well over 30 years.
Suddenly I was reminded of Mickey.
Mick was a doorman at a building up the block who was exposed to Agent Orange while in Vietnam, as a result, dying of lung cancer two years ago. There was something about him that always made me think of my father…humility, a quietness – the silly way he told a joke. I have so little of my dad’s that I’ve often wondered what possessed me to give Mickey his Air Force pin that languished in my jewelry box for so many years. But I do remember what I said when I gave it to him…
“My father would want you to have this, soldier to soldier.”
Where did that come from?
Mickey wore it for a good three years before illness forced him to retire. It always made me smile seeing it pinned to his jacket pocket. I wonder where that little pin is now? My fantasy is that he passed it on…