Memorial Day isn’t just about honoring veterans, its honoring those who lost their lives. Veterans had the fortune of coming home. For us, that’s a reminder of when we come home we still have a responsibility to serve. It’s a continuation of service that honors our country and those who fell defending it.
Several years ago Bob and I traveled through Southeast Asia with some remarkable people. Many of them had military backgrounds and had served in Vietnam. The testosterone levels in the group were fairly high and there was polite jostling among the men see whose exploits and memories would carry the day. Tucked in our group was a woman, about my age, who had a passion for textiles and weaving. She was a charmer with a wicked sense of humor, but like most of us gals, she looked like a grandmother and her interests pegged her as a homebody.
The way she carried herself and spoke led me to believe I had only seen one side of the coin. I could sense there was more, a whole lot more to her story, and that she was a person with a tale to tell. At any rate, we adopted each other for the duration of the trip and I picked up on the vague smile that appeared when the guys talked rank. I also had seen the distinctive silver chain she used to carry her keys. Its spread eagle insignia helped me put the pieces together, so I had a sense of who she was, though I still was not sure and did not ask.
I tend not to pry and prefer to let folks tell their own stories when they are ready to unveil them. That happened as we came closer to Hanoi. She withdrew a bit and absented herself from the group when we toured the Hanoi Hilton. That evening she shared bits of her history with me. My friend had retired from the service with flag rank. She was a Bird Colonel, the first woman ever to to achieve that rank. She entered the service right out of college and because of her age and medical background, she had first hand knowledge of what happened in the Hanoi Hilton.
She had absented herself from the tour because she did not want to see a sanitized version of a place she knew to be a hell hole. She spoke briefly of the death she had seen during her tours, but her focus was on the damaged minds and bodies the war had left behind. She carried the weight of those who were less honored than their fallen comrades, those who had no special day set aside for remembrance of the sacrifices they, too, had made. Since meeting her, we’ve expanded our Memorial Day to include them all and proudly fly the flag to salute them and, of course, her. I send my thanks today to all who serve. May God bless and keep you all.