A Memorial Day Memory Re-visited

Today my brother Bob and sister-in-law Janice will drive to Indiantown Gap National Cemetery to lay flowers on Dad’s grave.

Protestant Service on Saipan led by my father, Kenneth Campbell Stewart, end of WWII.

Our father served as the Army Air Force chaplain for troops in the South Pacific before, during, and after the bombing of Tokyo. During Dad’s absence, my mother and I lived with my grandparents in Boston and South Paris, Maine, where Dad’s safe return was foremost in prayers before every meal.

I was three-and-a-half when Dad came home at the end of the war. The memory is clear as a bell. I watched as my father emerge from the B-29 bomber, walked down the ramp and across the tarmac at Boston’s Logan Airport. When he picked me up and took me in his arms, I reared back and asked “Are you really my Daddy?” “I am,” he said, “and I’m never going away again.”

All these years later, my hair has turned white, my skin is wrinkled, the world is mute without the hearing aids, my bones ache, and my head hurts most days. But I’m still the three year-old who felt the heavy weight of concern around my grandparents’ table listening for news from the South Pacific

It takes a lifetime for some memories to become clear. “Memorial Day and the Soldier’s Helmet,” published two years ago in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), offers a Memorial Day example.

Today I’m remembering again that night when the burly WWII Marine veteran unburdened himself of the locked box of hidden artifacts from the Japanese soldier he’d killed in hand-to-hand combat during the American invasion of Saipan. The ending of the story written just a few years ago is sorely incomplete.

So…today I observe Memorial Day by returning to the original sense of Memorial Day as a day to remember the fallen – ALL of them – but even more, a day to re-commit to ending the insanity of war itself. It’s a day when I remember the in-breaking of sacredness – three men in the living room – two live Americans and one Japanese – and pray for something better for us all.

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p.12

This Memorial Day the three-year-old who waited for his father’s return remembers how strange memory is. As Bob and Janice lay flowers on Dad’s grave today, I am more conscious of a glaring omission. There were not three men in the living room that night. There were four. Dad was the first man there. Bless you, Dad. RIP.

photo of Indiantown Gap National Cemetery
Entrance to Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, East Hanover Township, PA

Grace and Peace,

Gordon

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 31, 2019

11 thoughts on “A Memorial Day Memory Re-visited

  1. Memorial Day! A father dead long before his time from Industrial pneumonia; an 18 year old brother inducted April, 1944, 4 months after my father’s death; a mother left with four children at home in Jacksonville, FL. three brothers serving in the following: U.S. Army Air Corp, a brother in the U. S. Navy aboard ship in the South Pacific, a brother in the U. S. Army in Germany and a family in Florida who could not ride in the front of the bus, drink water from the condensed frosted drinking fountains in Kreseke, Woolworth on a hot summer’s day nor use the toilet in downtown stores when far from home. Not much better today!

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    • Thank you, Don, for bringing sharing this part of your story. The details under the cloud and the cloud itself bring me and and all of us who lived/live in the world of white privilege up short. I can feel it. It makes me thankful for our friendship.

      I can hear my Dad’s voice from the grave at Indiantown Gap and your brothers’ voices observing what’s happening today. It’s a chorus: “Sorry! We didn’t serve and give our lives for this!”

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  2. And with all that he saw and felt in the South Pacific, his eyes could still twinkle with merriment. I’ll never forget that sense of humor. And I’m glad our parents are spared the heartbreaking place we are now in, and hopefully can extract ourselves soon.

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    • Hi Barb. Thanks for joining the memories. You, Carolyn, Bob, Don, and I were blessed. I know that look. It was mischievous. And unstoppable, as in the day during a visit to Cornwall Manor Dad, who couldn’t stand up without a walker, whispered when Mom was in the other room, “Skip! Let’s go over to the golf course.” “Dad,” I said, “you can’t hit a golf ball. You can’t swing a club without falling over.” “I can do it,” he insisted. Then Mom came back to the living room and he was back to dreaming about a hole-in-one.

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