The Final Goodbye (A #MemorialDay Story)

By U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I wrote this story a while back to honor those our country has lost defending our freedoms, and it seemed only right I share it again this weekend.

The Final Goodbye

He stood alone. As he gazed out at the white crosses that covered the beautifully manicured lawn he felt the weight of his 48 years drag his shoulders down in a way he never had before. It had been a long time since he’d been back to this place, and he’d hoped to never return.

“A parent should never outlive his child.” Grief scratching at his throat.

He blinked back tears that stubbornly refused to fall. Part of him clung to the image he had in his mind’s eye. Full of laughter and vitality, that precious dark head bent over to kiss his young wife’s distended belly, before he turned around to say goodbye. David promised to come home soon.

He shook his head as the pain threatened to suffocate him. Not like this. This had to be a bad dream. He just needed to wake up and everything would be okay again. Unfortunately, the folded triangle of fabric pressed tightly to his chest told him everything was all too real.

His bowed his head, fingers digging into the precious flag. Alone with his grief he dropped to his knees and cried out to the only person who could hear him.

“God, if you’re listening…this is too much. Almost more pain than I can bear! My boy was a good son, a great husband. He was going to be a great father. He loved you. Loved this country. He wanted so badly to follow in his grandpa’s footsteps. Did you really have to take him, too?”

The hand on his shoulder felt familiar. It had been decades since he’d experienced that touch. He looked up to find his father standing beside him. He wore the same dress blues he’d been buried in 40 years ago and he hadn’t aged a day.

“Dad…” he choked out, blinking, sure this was some sort of hallucination.

There was a wealth of understanding and regret in his father’s eyes. “Hello, son.”

“I’m finally losing it, right? Hallucinating? A psychotic break caused by grief and stress?”

“No, son. You’re not. God heard you…. So did I. We’ve never been far away. When you called out, I asked him to let me go to you.”

Although none of this seemed real, he decided to go with it. Maybe he was dreaming. What harm could it do?

“It’s all so damned unfair, Dad!” he railed. “First you, then my son? Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud of him. Proud of you… But did the price have to be so high?”

His father wrapped strong arms around him, something he’d missed most of his life. He soaked in the comfort, gaining some strength before he let go. With a bolstering breath, he straightened his spine, threw his shoulders back and raised his head.

“I’m proud of you, you know.” His father looked at him with the same piercing blue eyes as his son. “I’ve watched you grow into a strong, honorable man. I know it wasn’t easy for you to let David join the service. After the way you lost me, it would have been all too easy to encourage him to go a different direction.”

“It wouldn’t have been right. Being a soldier was all he ever wanted.” He shrugged, his smile, bittersweet. “To be a hero, just like his Grandpa.”

“It may have served you better not to paint me with such a heroic brush,” his father laughed. “I appreciate that, by the way. The way you kept me alive in your heart. The way you shared me with your family. It meant everything to me.”

The man shook his head. “I didn’t do anything all that special.”

“Yes you did,” his father smiled. “It may seem like nothing to you, but it’s what gave your son the courage to chase his dream. He knew the danger, but he also saw your gift. When his number was called, he didn’t worry. His son and wife are in good hands with you. He knows you’ll keep his memory alive, just like you did for me.”

“You’ve seen my David?” Tears finally flowed, unchecked.

His father nodded. “Of course. You didn’t think I’d let your son get to heaven without a welcome party, did you?”

“He’s okay? My boy. You’ll look out for him, Dad?”

“Of course.” His father nodded his head. “He’ll be loved. Surrounded by family, both military and kin.”

With one more shuddering breath, he clasped his father’s hand and squeezed.

“Tell him, Dad.” He bit his lip as his voice broke. “Tell him I’ll watch over his family down here. I know he’ll be watching out for them with you. And please, tell him I’m so proud of him.”

“I will.” His father smiled one last time before fading away.

As he stood, gazing out at all the soldiers that came before, he could have sworn he heard David’s voice on the gentle breeze.

“I love you, Dad.”

Squeezing the flag to his chest, he nodded.

“I love you, too, son. I’m proud of you.”

Never Forgotten

The story I’m about to tell is part fact, part fiction. Much is derived from my Grandfather’s story of his time in the military during WWII, but some is artistic embellishment. Some of you may recall from this post that my grandparents actually married as he was headed off to war. Parts of these are from actual stories he shared with us, but most of it is fiction.

Rock Island National Cemetery

Rock Island National Cemetery

“Hey dad! Where ya goin’?” Kevin raced to the black Cadillac. He turned to face his son, leaving the keys dangling in the door. “The party’s gonna start soon.”

Adam reached down and ruffled his son’s blond hair. “I’m going to visit with an old friend for a while. I’ll be back.”

“Can I come?” His carbon copy hopped from foot to foot with the unbridled energy only a ten year old possessed.

He stared out at the festively decorated street for a moment as he debated his answer. Was Kevin old enough to understand? To appreciate? He turned the key in the heavy metal door and yanked it open. With a shrug he decided there was no time like the present.

“Get in, kid.” With a sweep of his arm, he gestured for him to slide across the bench seats to the passenger side.

“Yes!” Kevin’s small fist punched the air in excitement.

Adam called out to his wife through the screened front walk up. “Elise, I’m taking Kev with me, okay?”

Her voice came through the front door. “See you boys soon. Don’t stay out too long. Company will be here soon and I’ll need your help on the grill.”

He reassured her quickly, got into the car, and backed out of the driveway. As they drove down the road, he half-heartedly listened to Kevin chatter about the parade, the cook out, and his excitement at nearing the end of the school year. The rest of him prayed he’d find the right words to share with his son.

As he turned the car into the drive, past the large stone walls and open wrought iron gate, he felt his son’s eyes go from the letters on the wall to his face. “Hey, dad.”

“Yes, son?” He glanced over at his son. For once, the boy was still, his blue eyes, solemn.

“That sign said Rock Island National Cemetery.” He paused, his small fingers pulling nervously at the edges of his denim shorts. “Are your friends meeting us here?”

He parked the car and motioned for his son to get out. “You could say that.”

Adam stepped from the vehicle and walked around to the passenger side where his son stood waiting. He slung an arm around the boy’s shoulder and guided the way down the familiar path. It was time.

“Kevin, do you remember when I told you that I used to be in the Navy?” He slowed his gait as they walked through the grassy areas and wove their way around tombstones.

His son nodded.

“Your mom and I had just gotten married when I was called away to war. You and your sisters weren’t even born yet.” He smiled down at his boy. “In fact, your mom found out she was pregnant with Katie while I was on a ship heading to Europe. Of course, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that Hitler was trying to take over the world and it was my turn to fight. It was my duty to help keep our world safe.”

He swallowed hard. “There were a lot of guys just like me on that ship. Young. Excited. Wanting to make a difference in the world. But we were also a little bit scared. I mean, it was war. People could die in war. Not that we really thought it could happen to us.”

He stopped in front of a tombstone, placed his hand gently against the white, worn marker and closed his eyes for a moment. “Hey Charlie, I brought some company today. This is my kid, Kevin. I wanted him to meet you.”

He watched as his son stepped forward and traced the name carved into the hard marble, blue eyes squinting with focus and curiosity. “Charlie was one of my first friends on our ship. When we found out we grew up a few miles apart, we became best buds. One day, we were put on duty to clean the hull of our ship. We were scraping away when my stomach began to bother me. Charlie sent me back up to go lie down until I felt better. He said he’d finish everything off. I’d just headed for my room when we came under fire. I ran as fast as I could to see what happened. A missile had hit our ship right where I’d been just minutes before. Charlie didn’t stand a chance. It could just as easily have been me.”

His son wrapped his arms around him, and he squeezed back, running a hand through his son’s blond hair. “Two times while I was at war I almost died. That was the first time. I guess God was sending me a message to let me know he wasn’t ready for me yet. But in the meantime, I come here every Memorial day to hang out with my friend. To make sure he’s remembered. To tell him thank you for saving my life, even though he had no idea at the time. I pay my respects, then come home to enjoy your mother’s parties and count each and every one of you as my blessings.”

Kevin took a deep breath; the long ago conversation with his dad feeling like yesterday, rather than 40. He watched as the honor guard folded his father’s flag while a lone trumpet played “Taps” in the background. As the soldier marched toward him and presented him with the cloth triangle of red, white, and blue, he accepted, holding it close to his chest. Sixty years later, his dad would be reunited with his friend.

“Charlie.” His smile was bittersweet. “Wherever you are; thanks for giving me this time with my dad. Hope you guys are enjoying a beer together in person. I know he was looking forward to seeing you again.”

A Soldier’s Sacrifice

Little me in Germany, wearing the hat to my dad's uniform Little me in Germany, wearing the hat to my dad’s uniform

“Why do you have to go?” she asked
as tears rolled down her cheeks.
It didn’t matter if he left
for years or months or weeks.
The question asked was innocent,
a plea to comprehend
why daddy wasn’t always home
to hold his daughter’s hand.

He wondered how he could explain
as he answered her demand;
he stumbled over every word
and prayed she’d understand.

“Daddy’s got a job to do
that takes him far away,
protecting weak and innocent
even though he’d rather stay.
He made a solemn promise
to answer freedom’s call
and defend our rights with honor
when our back’s against the wall.”

He wrapped an arm around his wife,
his child tucked to his heart,
his bags lay waiting by the door,
he hated to depart.

“Babe, you know I love you both,”
he squeezed both angels tight.
“God keep you safe while I’m away.
Pray for me every night.
Your sacrifice, as great as mine,
is rarely seen or heard;
head held high with dignity,
you never say a word.”

With one last kiss he turned away
and headed out the door,
just another soldier,
Headed off to war.

This is probably not my best piece or poetry, but it’s how my appreciation for those who’ve served (along with their families) manifested itself today. As some of you have probably deduced from my post from last Veteran’s Day entitled I Bled For You I have a strong affinity to those who’ve served or are serving in the armed forces. I have so much respect for those who decide day in and day out to lay their lives on the line to serve and protect so that their fellow countrymen don’t have to. It’s not an easy cross to bear by any stretch of the imagination.

The above pic was taken of me as a girl when my family was stationed in Germany. It was the dead of winter and I felt so cool being allowed to wear my father’s winter hat, especially since it was part of his uniform. As a child of the military, we were afforded the opportunity to travel with my dad. Germany was one of a few countries we had the chance to see thanks to his career.

One of the other places I hold near and dear to my heart is the Philippines. It’s made more special by the fact that my mother is Filipina, so I’m sure you can imagine how much it breaks my heart to read or see all the damage done to a place I once called home. If you haven’t heard about the devastation that hit my former birthplace, check this out. Death toll is in the 10,000’s. By the way, the island of Leyte, where the worst of the damage seems to be? That’s my mom’s birthplace. If you’d like to find a way to help, here are some great links. This is a third world country and the devastation is unreal. I know the indomitable spirit of my fellow Filipinos, but they could use all the prayers, good vibes, great thoughts…and yes, monetary support if you can.

For my kababayan friends- Ikaw ay nasa aking mga saloobin at panalangin. Aking puso pinaghihiwa para sa mga ganap na pagkasira na dulot ng Haiyan.