A young man begins to understand the reason for Memorial Day
The Old Soldier
By E. Franklin Evans, copyright May 2010
The family in the loaded SUV entered the front gate of the cemetery. It was a hot day, temperature 90 degrees, and the humidity was around 60%. The air-conditioned vehicle kept everyone comfortable if not completely content, after all it took over an hour to get to the beach from home and the children were beginning to get restless at this unnecessary stop on the way. The two children in the back seat were anxious to get to the beach. Frankie, the older brother, as usual had been irritating Barb, his younger sister for the past hour. They finally quieted when their mother suggested they sing and that made them manageable, for a little while. Now they were just in a hurry to get to the sand and ocean. The back of the SUV was full of floats, beach toys, buckets and shovels for building their sand castle. A picnic basket and cooler were full of family favorites and Frankie’s stomach growled in anticipation.
“Here’s a good spot, “said Dad. He pulled off the paved road into the gravel parking area near a large oak tree. “Lots of shade and a great view of all the flags waving over the graves.”
Frankie looked at the hundreds of miniature flags waving in the slight breeze. It looked like an ocean of red, white, and blue. It made Frankie more anxious to get this over and get on to the beach.
“Dad, why don’t we just get on to the beach and quit wasting time.”
“Son, it’s only fitting that we give thanks and honor those who gave their lives in service of our country. One of those, remember, was your uncle. He’s not here, but Belgium is too far away for us, I’m afraid. I still think of him. You were named for him.”
“I know, Dad. Let’s just get this over.”
The doors opened and everyone stepped out. Mom and Dad stood there for a moment gazing over the sea of flags. Barb wanted Mom to pick her up, but Mom told her it was too hot and she would have to walk by herself.
“Let’s walk down this row for a bit and read some of the names, “said Dad.
“I’m just going to sit on the bench in the shade, Dad. I don’t want to walk.”
“OK, Frankie. I’m sorry you don’t want to join us, but have it your way. Don’t leave the bench. We are not going to be far.”
It was cool on the bench and Frankie stretched out watching the clouds overhead as they changed shape. Soon the gentle breeze and the mesmerizing effect of the flags in the wind lulled Frankie to sleep.
“Young man, may I sit down here for a spell?” asked an older gentleman in a soldier’s uniform.
“Uh, I guess so, “said Frankie. “ My parents are just over there.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I won’t be any bother. I just want to rest for a few minutes and enjoy the beautiful site of all those flags.”
“Mister, are you part of that ceremony over there with all the other soldiers and band?”
“Well, sort of, I guess.”
Frankie recognized the uniform from pictures he had seen of his uncle Frank.
“You are dressed up like a soldier from WWII, aren’t you? My Dad and his brothers were in WWII.”
The man chuckled and said, “Yes, son. I know. We gather here at this time every year to see old friends and enjoy the ceremonies. We share stories with each other and watch the families who come to remember.”
“You mean your club or friends from the war?”
Smiling, the old man said, “Yes, it is a club of sorts. It has lots of chapters all over the US and even a couple overseas. We have numerous members that wear many different uniforms. But we share a common bond and that is the love of this country. We are concerned about it and as long as people come to remember and celebrate the sacrifices of others who have given their lives for its principles, we will continue to come.”
Frankie looked around for his parents.
“See that headstone over there by the walkway?”
“Well, that belongs to one of my best friends. We came here together. Great guy. A salesman in life. Had a wife and two children.”
Frankie began to feel a bit uneasy as he said, “Uh, I think I had better go find my parents now.”
“That’s fine, son. I think you understand now, don’t you?”
“Y...Yes, Sir. I think I do.” Frankie began to feel a calming peacefulness come over him as the truth was revealed.
“Young man, I have to go now. I’m part of the Welcoming Committee and we have some new members that have just arrived. That’s them over there.”
Frankie looked where the old soldier was pointing and he saw a group of ten or twelve young men and women in uniform anxiously looking around at the ceremonies and flags. They were talking among themselves and no one seemed to take notice of their presence.
“Good-bye, young man. Thank you for sharing part of your day with us.”
Frankie stood up erect and smiled while one small tear crept from the corner of his eye.
“Thank you, Sir. For all you have given and for the sacrifices all of you have given throughout the ages.”
Frankie suddenly came to attention as if it was the most natural thing to do. He saluted the old soldier who returned his salute and walked away.
“By the way, Sir. If you happen to see my uncle, please tell him that I remember and thank him for me.”
“I sure will, son. I sure will.”
Nearing the group of newcomers to the club, the old soldier waved and they waved back. Joining them, the old soldier looked back at Frankie and waved again. Frankie returned his wave and watched as the group, the old soldier in charge now, slowly faded away.
Frankie looked and in the distance saw his parents and Barb walking among the rows of headstones and flags. Although he wasn’t sure they could hear him that far away, he called, “Mom! Dad! I want to join you. I understand now. Wait for me.”