Today is Memorial Day, the day we pause to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in combat to protect our freedom and the rights of others. Can you imagine going to work every single day wondering if you would be alive and whole at the end of the day? No, most of us can’t comprehend the thought of what true sacrifice means.
My father served in World War II as a Marine. Lucky Fred’s first combat assignment, oh yes he went straight from boot camp and training right into the most dangerous war environment, was to drive an ambulance picking up the wounded and, horrifically, the dead. Imagine this happy-go-lucky, always smiling and laughing young man from a big family in Oklahoma City facing death and unbelievable war injuries those first few days of active service. It changed him immediately. He’d experienced grief – his mother died at home when he was 16 and he’d already lost two young brothers to childhood illnesses; but this, oh yes it changed him profoundly.
It took my daddy about 50 years to be able and ready to speak of his war experience. I knew he had served and was a proud Marine. I knew he was honorably discharged after his World War II experience and chose not to stay in the Reserves. I knew he was deeply troubled by the Vietnam War and the loss of boys the age of my brother, and men with young families waiting for them at home. We did not speak of Vietnam but I caught him crying as he watched the news coverage at times and I didn’t understand. I was born in 1960 so I was very young as Vietnam was being fought but I clearly remember the count of those Americans lost each night at the beginning of the national news coverage. I didn’t understand the pain my father felt nor did I understand the emotional impact the Vietnam War had on his memories of serving.
Out of the blue, daddy began sharing his war experiences with Lance while they were hanging out drinking beer, floating around the backyard pool. He found the perfect person to share his memories and emotions with in that pool; Lance was fascinated and so very empathetic and kind responding to my dad’s emotions. They shared so many hours together as daddy began the process of letting go of memories, fears, and feelings he’d kept buried deep inside since he returned in physically perfect shape after the war ended. Emotionally my daddy was never the same, he’d seen and lived through things only fellow servicemen could understand.
Today as we remember those lives that were lost, I’ll share the life-changing story my daddy experienced his first week in service as a young Marine. Daddy and his crew were sent to bring back injured and killed comrades from a very dangerous location where the Americans had taken a beating. There were injured and killed soldiers everywhere they looked. Daddy noticed a very young soldier who was still alive, but had suffered injuries that would take his life. Daddy went to him and started a conversation with him. The young soldier told daddy he knew he was going to die and that he was very afraid to die alone. My daddy assured the young man that he would not die alone and that he would not leave his side. Daddy tried to calm him and asked questions about where he was from and about his family as the young soldier was fading in and out. Near the end, daddy asked the young man if he believed in God and the soldier responded that he most certainly did. Daddy asked if he could read from his soldier’s Bible to him – daddy read the 23rd Psalms to this young man as he passed from the earth. Daddy told the young soldier that he would see him again in Heaven. The young man died.
The last time I heard this story was at my daddy’s funeral. He had specifically told me that he wanted the 23rd Psalms read as part of his service and he wanted the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” to be sung as well. Right after the service ended, two very young Marines came to the front of the service for the flag folding and family presentation ceremony. As I sat there with Lance on my left and my big brother, Ricky on my right, tears flowed … I thought of daddy telling the young dying soldier he’d see him again in Heaven and I believe they’ve been reunited.
My daddy wasn’t a preacher. My daddy was a quiet Christian. He wasn’t one to speak often about his faith, but I NEVER doubted his faith and trust in God brought him home from that war so he could marry my mom and be the most incredible father to Ricky and me. He witnessed to and comforted many soldiers during his time driving that ambulance; his quiet confidence that God never leaves one of his children behind was one of his legacies during World War II. We’ll never know how many soldiers he comforted and didn’t leave as they passed from this earth to their home in Heaven. But God had a plan for Fred and a special call for him while he served in the Marines, and daddy stepped up to answer God’s call. I’m sure when daddy passed through those pearly gates, God acknowledged daddy’s good works and said “well done my son”.
Today please take a moment to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day. I am forever grateful my daddy came home, just as I am so thankful for my military friends who served and lived to come home. God bless you all. Semper Fi!