Every year my family celebrates Memorial Day with a breakfast cookout in the canyons. I’m not sure why this year felt different – more special somehow. Maybe it’s because this year could be my grandfather’s last. My grandfather, Blaine Hill, is a Marine and served in World War II. We have had countless Memorial Day moments where he shared stories from his time in the military. It’s one thing to know what these men do for us, but it’s quite another to hear it first hand. He told his memoirs to my grandmother who wrote them down for him, and he did an interview on camera with my sister who is an oral historian.
This year seemed to be about something different. It’s not like any of us planned it beforehand. My sister said she didn’t think about what she was going to do until yesterday. I’ll admit that I started thinking of words to write for my grandfather a week ago. It almost kept me up one night. As soon as I had the thought, the damn thing started writing itself in my head. I was NOT about to get my ass out of bed at midnight to jot it down, so I guess I’m lucky I was able to remember it the next morning.
I read the poem to my assembled family this morning. The last part, I read directly to my grandfather, as it was his hands I was picturing as I wrote it; his stories I tried to picture in my head.
When I was finished, it was my sister’s turn. Her husband currently serves in the Air National Guard and she speaks every year at our breakfast. This year, she decided to take things in a different direction. She asked the active military members and veterans of our family to retire a flag. I’ve never actually witnessed this particular ceremony before and it was awe-inspiring. As we all stood with our hands on our hearts, my uncle, another marine veteran, and my brother-in-law unfolded the flag and we all said the Pledge of Allegiance. When it was over, they folded the flag back up and handed it to my grandfather. He held the flag and looked as if he didn’t know what to do until my uncle leaned over and told him to place it in the fire.
There are no words to accurately express or describe what happened next. My grandfather let out a soul-wrenching cry, crushed that flag to his chest, then lifted it to his mouth and kissed it. He then lovingly placed the flag in the fire. We all continued to hold our hands to our hearts and watched in silence as my grandfather saluted the flag. When it was almost completely gone, one of my cousins started singing the Star Spangled Banner. Everyone joined in and when the song was over, the flag was completely gone. I don’t believe what happened this morning is something that can be planned in advance and I think the spontaneity and heart-felt actions of those involved made it even more memorable.
I am proud of those who serve and have served and I want to say Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Below is a picture of my grandfather with my brother who shares his name as well as the poem I wrote. I hope everyone had a fabulous Memorial Day, however you chose to celebrate it.
Withered hands… clenched
Empty… frozen… alone
Surrounded by training assembled neatly
Engulfing darkness closing in on…
Darting… bloodshot eyes
Huddled… huddling… breaking… broken
Seeping around the edges of innocence…
Bare… haggard… sunken
Graying around edges of
Sleepless nights turned ashen
Far away dots… illuminating night
Waving flags… losing… bleary…
Marching into the pale…
Melancholic bruising… bruised…
Voluminous clouds… crashing into
Withered hands… shaking
Warm… safe… more
Surrounded by poignant spaces
Encircling love closing in on…
Vital… stark… stalwart