Each Memorial Day, my grandmother would pick flowers from her garden and take them to the cemetery, where she would place them on relatives’ graves. If we were in town for a visit, my father and l would accompany her. They would share memories as old, wilted petal offerings were replaced with freshly picked ones. It wasn’t unusual to run into cousin Marilyn and one of her children performing the same ritual. One time, Marilyn grinned, and suggested Memorial Day cemetery tailgate parties. We laughed, and passed around hugs before returning home. A few years later, my grandmother passed, and now she receives flowers from her garden, as we continue to use the house for stays at the coast.
Although Memorial Day is meant to remember and honor fallen veterans, my family was lucky – those who served returned. So, we honored all loved ones lost. Only recently, I learned we actually did lose one cousin on my grandmother’s maternal side of her family.
Rollin, like most veterans of World War II, rushed to sign up to fight for his country. He was told they couldn’t use him due to his low vision, but he fought the establishment, until they acquiesced. My great-aunt Virginia wrote to him every week, and he always responded. He was her favorite cousin. But, then, his letters stopped coming. She waited, and waited. Nothing. One day, she happened to see his obituary in the newspaper, where she read that he had only served three months overseas before dying under enemy fire. Sixty years later, she was still bitter that no one told her. She named her only son Rollin.
Although books, plays, and articles have often eloquently expressed the devastating effects of war, only a family of a veteran who did not return can truly know the depth of a personally tragic loss. So, to those families, please accept my deepest condolences, and immense gratitude.