• author
    • Donald Sanders

    • May 21, 2015 in Columnists

    Memorial Day — celebrate living soldiers as well

    Monday is Memorial Day. Like many Americans I will think about what that means to me. There were so many soldiers who gave their lives for their country, not just our country but all countries. Each and every one of them had a family. Each and every one had those that he loved and those that loved them in return. Each and every one was a human being.

    My people came from Tennessee and Arkansas. Way before that, my ancestor, Pettiplace Clouse (from my grandmother’s side), landed in Jamestown in 1610 aboard the English ship, Starr. Pettiplace was an indentured servant for the aristocrats who financed the voyage in return for several years of labor. As far as I can tell, every single male member of our family from Pettiplace all the way down to me was a soldier at one time or another.

    I have documents from as far back as the War of 1812 and a few from the Civil War naming my distant uncles and their service to this country. I’m sure that each of them had their own stories that have been long since been forgotten because no one had written them down to share with those who follow, generation after generation. I’m not sure, but I feel in my heart that since the advent of the computer, more and more of these stories are now being preserved.

    My family (the ones that I know of) was always Army, with the exception of my brother, Michael, who always did things the hard way and joined the Marines. He was so proud of that fact. I always think of Michael, always. Except for our time in Vietnam, I was with him his whole life and now I go on alone.

    I met my Uncle Ray only one time when I was very young. He had served in the European theater during World War II. I don’t know if we ever exchanged a word between us, but I do remember his box of war souvenirs that included a dagger with a swastika and several Nazi flags. Other than that, I know that, like my brother he liked the bottle a little too much.

    I met my father Edwin only twice that I know of. I was very young but I remember the first meeting only because he tried to kill me. It’s a long story but a sad one just the same. That day was the very first time I can remember experiencing overwhelming fear, the extent of which I have experienced only twice again on another day, years after the first. Fear is a funny thing, because it takes control over your whole body, making it impossible to talk or run. It’s as if you were frozen in time.

    Years later, I met my father a second time in the hospice at Battle Creek Military Hospital where I met my father’s brother, my Uncle Tracy, for the first time. He told me that my father was a paranoid schizophrenic who had spent his entire life in a mental ward in different military hospitals around the country. My father, toward the end of the war, was found living in a hole on some desert island in the Pacific. He had piled the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers over the hole to hide the entrance to his little hideout.

    The next time I saw my father was at his funeral in Cookeville, Tennessee. It was a military funeral much like the one I would like for myself and my brother Michael. As it stands, Michael is in a jar on someone’s bookshelf in San Jose instead of at the military cemetery where he belongs and has earned the right to be. I fail to understand why he is being kept apart from his fellow soldiers in his rightful spot with a white stone and a little American flag. In the future I would like to be right next to him.

    So, for me, Memorial Day is not only for those that have given their lives for this country. I see it as a day to think about those soldiers who are still alive as well. We should celebrate them while we can in every way possible before they are gone. I celebrate my nephew, Robert Scott Sanders. He is a veteran of the Iraqi and Afghan wars. I have never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I love him like no other and I want him to know that on this Memorial Day and I wish the whole Earth was a single country, because it should be.

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