I woke up early and laid in bed, I just laid there and listened to the birds announce the rising of the sun and the death of night, like Taps, those lonesome bugles that are played at a military funeral!
Memorial Day, If I had a bugle and knew how to play it, I would go outside and pay homage to all the fallen soldiers, blowing air, breathing for all those who no longer breathe, who lost their last breath on the battlefield of some foreign country or the battlefield, of their emotions coming back, but never really coming back!
I lay in bed and thought of the stories! My grandfather, a young boy of 17, whose job it was to bury the dead on the Field of Flanders during World War I.
He told my father,” I had such a difficult time putting dirt over their faces, seeing eyes staring at me, blood, but we had to be quick, war didn’t stop so we could bury the dead. I wanted to give them some sort of respect, so I’d tear up pieces of cloth and keep them buried in my pockets in order to put them over their faces before I shoveled the dirt. It was the least I could do to honor them and the ultimate sacrifice they paid.”
Stories, the story of Jim Beam, was his name really Jim Beam or did he just like whiskey, I’ll never know, but every time I see a bottle of Jim Beam, I think of him and picture him driving down the east coast in his bright and shiny red convertible! Jim was a young boy of 19 from New York, a Marine in Viet Nam; he had made it through his portion of the war and was heading home. Long nights in the jungle he’d tell of his plan to buy that shiny red convertible and drive it down the east coast to Florida, He wanted the wind in his hair, feel that sense of freedom that only I suppose a shiny red convertible can offer to a young man of 19 who just became an old man in the jungles of Viet Nam. He was going to be that boy again. They were waiting for the helicopter to pick them up and take them to Saigon when a bomb exploded.
Bill said, “I was so close, I could see Jim laughing and talking and then it happened, came out of nowhere, so fast, but that’s war, life and death rides around on each shoulder, tipping you one way or another. When the smoke cleared and I could see the devastation, I couldn’t find Jim. He was in pieces, mixed in with the rest who were sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time. I searched through the bodies and found him, I knew it was him because I recognized the ring on his finger and I took it off his mangled hand! I didn’t want that ring lost in the jungles of Viet Nam! Jim’s with me all the time, I see his smile, his excitement for going home and then I see the bomb, I wake up and realize, I’m dreaming again and again and again.”
One year I bought Bill a model of a shiny red Corvette, I told him to put it together and take it to the Wall in Washington D.C. and give it to Jim, give him his shiny red convertible so he could ride down the east coast to Florida with the wind in his hair and a smile on his face.
Memorial Day, oh, to reach for a world beyond war, where young men and women don’t have to pay the ultimate sacrifice!
As a soldier who had done three tours in Iraq said to me, “We’ve gone to the moon, advanced in medicine, we have computers, but we’ve not yet discovered a way to settle differences without resorting to the ancient ways of battle; we still fight each other like we did centuries ago!”
I’ve thought of the torn pieces of cloth my grandfather put over the dead soldiers' faces that he had to bury and wondered when we are going to take off those pieces of cloth that cover our eyes from the horrors of war, that only a few really pay the sacrifice for! My 85 year old friend, he just told me, I can’t forget! He spent three days on the floor of his bathroom caught somewhere in his mind with his soldiers in Viet Nam, those that didn’t make it back and that he has mourned every day.
Thank-you to all who sacrificed, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, fellow brothers in arms, brothers and sisters! Bill's headstone reads, Peace Sirs, speak truth to power!
Thank you, Nicolette, for sharing these powerful stories with your beautiful writing.