Monday, May 29, 2006

flags at the graves of soldiers

Today is Memorial Day. I took off Friday, so have enjoyed a four-day weekend. On Monday morning, I planned what jobs I could get done around the house during the remains of the weekend. I called my Mother, and then started to think I should drive down to Camp Butler to put flowers on my father's grave. I wanted to stay home and paint and garden, but patriotic duty seemed to call. I could also stop by and till Mom's garden, which would be fun.

My father was not a decorated soldier. I think he got thrown into the brig several times for not returning to the ship on time or other insubordinations. Many WWII veterans spoke proudly of their service. My father felt incredible guilt for the Japanese planes he shot down in the Pacific. He felt anger for the exposure to radiation he received when he and his shipmates were sent into Nagasaki after the bomb dropped. He never talked about his service. He traveled outside of Sangamon County reluctantly. We never took vacations. Travel, to him, meant unpleasantness. After sailing almost every mile of the U.S. coastline and most of the South Pacific, he wanted to stay home.

So, when I found his marker in the crowded cremation section, by following the dates of death, I remembered that it told an umimpressive record: gunners mate 3rd class. My mom had given me the only remnants of spring left blooming in her yard: some floppy, wind-blown mock orange blossoms. Camp Butler has bins of metal vases that fit securely in the ground, but by late afternoon on Memorial Day, the bins were empty. I got a water bottle from the car, but the profusely blossomed branches tipped it over. The ground, still somewhat soft from recent rain, let me poke the branches around the stone. I then poured the water over the dirt.

If you haven't been to a national cemetery on Memorial Day, I think it worth the drive. Flags line each throughway and a small flag is set at the end of each grave. Not knowing the tradition, I wanted to move my father's flag closer to the stone, nearer the flowers, for aesthetic reasons. When I got in the car, Performance Today was on the radio, broadcasting Memorial Day services from Arlington National Cemetery. I learned that the "Old Guard" stays at Arlington all weekend during "flags in" to make sure that a flag stands one foot away from the base of each grave.

Dad did love flowers, but I realized that even more he loved coffee. I decided that next time I visited his grave I would start a new tradition of bringing a thermos of coffee. I will pour two cups. To one I will add two packets of sugar, stir it vigorously, and then send the spoon (metal) dancing across the stone, just as Dad would fling a spoon, dripping coffee, across our oak kitchen table about 10 times a day. I will then say a word, set the sugared one down, and drink strongly from mine, black.

I think that would be better than flowers.


Anonymous said...

I would make a special trip for that ceremony! Memorial day or otherwise! Lucinda

Anonymous said...

PS - I would send this piece to the local paper! Totally publishable, don't even give it a double check for editing...jusst send it! L