What I think about on Memorial Day

No school. No work. Sunshine and swimming. Hotdogs and hamburgers. Summer is coming!

But that’s not what I think of on Memorial Day.

I think about a naval surveillance aircraft, the Lockheed SP2E-Neptune, that takes off for a mission through the Santa Ana Mountains of California one rainy February night in 1969.rip-graves

Seven crew from the nation’s heartland are missing their wives and children, yet they are tense with anticipation.

They crave flight. The thrust, the power, the roar of four engines and the propeller spinning send electrified currents through their veins

They receive the coordinates and lift into the furious night.

Rain assaults the aircraft like driving sheets of metal hammering against its flanks.

The coordinates lead them into Modeskja Canyon, flying at an altitude of 3,000 feet.

Aviators don’t fly into canyons. They navigate from high to low, not low to high. This canyon is no place for a huge aircraft.

The peaks rise to 5,000 feet, unnoticed in the dark of night behind a blinding blockade of water.

Thunder booms. Lightning flashes, illuminating the canyon walls that soar past their vision.

Pull up, pull up!

May day! May day!

A deafening collision of metal against rock. A fireball, seen miles away.

Seven young lives snuffed out.

Seven young women left reeling in disbelief.

Twenty-four children numb and confused. When is Daddy coming home?

Never, baby. He’s with Jesus now.

And life marches dimly on, through Memorial Days and Fourths of July and Veteran’s Days, when other people wave flags and eat hamburgers. While seven young widows live what freedom really means.

Mothers find jobs.

Children avoid father-son outings and father-daughter dances.

Grandmothers and grandfathers and aunts and uncles all finger old pictures and keep old toys, simply because they belonged to him.

Always they must correct assumptions about husbands and fathers and sons and brothers, while the rest of the country complains about everything that’s not right.

Our government is untrustworthy, people say. Yes, I know. My father died, and the government sealed the files on what happened and why.

Our government is charging too much for taxes, people complain. I know that my mom opted out of the Social Security benefits paid to widows. She wanted to the money to go to people who really needed it.

Our government should stop sending troops into war, people rage. Yes, I know war is horrible, and I hate it, too. Countless thousands of soldiers have died on training missions, sorties, special ops, and wartime missions. But I also know that grieving families wish everyone would recognize that their loved ones were heroes.

Our government isn’t perfect, but we live in a great land, my mother says. Old Glory waves from her front porch, day after day until it wears out and she buys another one.

She accepts sacrifice and heartache for the greater good. She’s proud to be an American. But she can’t hear “Taps” without weeping.

She cries when she sings the national anthem. She cries while people all around her don’t even know the words. They wear their baseball caps and eat their hotdogs, and their hands don’t cover their hearts.

This is what I think about on Memorial Day.

2 thoughts on “What I think about on Memorial Day

  1. Ed VanDeMark

    Well said Sue. I’m sorry for your loss. I wish I could offer more than a brief note. My wife and I both served, she was Army and I was Navy. Both of us completed our tour of duty in 1969. God bless you.

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