I was a child raised in northern New Hampshire around country men who had served in both world wars. The men I grew up with didn’t speak of those times; they would look at me long and hard when I asked and then look away and shake their heads.
Even my dad, with whom I was close, only opened up to share the reality of some of those days when we both got older. He said he didn’t want to die with me thinking that he was ‘such a great guy’. So, I listened to those grim tales and met his eyes when I could, and we shared the knowing of those acts of war and each suffered the telling in our own way.
When I had processed it all over time I loved him not a bit less, understanding that war is madness, and he was in war. It was good that he told me, for it allowed me to understand what my peace-loving college friends could not – that each soldier is a soul on a journey; we cannot imagine what roads they walk, nor do we want to try.
As a teenager, I had friends who didn’t wait for their number to come up, but headed out to war with their hearts light. I had friends who came to the farm to tell me and my folks that the lottery had called them, and they went with dread. I remember each of their faces, the ones who sought the adventure, and the ones who hated the duty.
We send the children of our nation into this horror and we expect them to stand it, and we know that what we expect them to endure is more than one should endure. Still, we have our flags and our uniforms and our ceremonies, and we all know it will never be enough to thank them for what they have done.
I remember the face of every young man whose name came back by word of mouth, a story in our local paper, letters carved on a memorial – with never another chance to see their eyes and laugh with them again. And I am grateful for every friend I had who came back from that war, whose lives continued with their wives, kids and jobs and the rich accumulation of living days. Each one is important, each story is critical to the story of our nation, of our intention, and of our commitment.
We honor their duty best not in parades and speeches, although those are good and proper ceremonies. We honor them best when we ensure their well-being when they come back from where we have sent them, when they come home with needs physical, psychological and emotional. When we can ease their path to a good education, to a better job, to a more peaceful family life, to a life that is able to find its stream in the great river of our nation’s prosperity, that is when we truly honor their service, and show proper respect for their gifts to us.
Memorial Day is powerful, it holds memories and promise, and it reminds us of our duty, even as we honor those who did theirs.
Lisa I Whittemore
Londonderry State Representative