My father served in the Pacific in WWII, but would never talk about it. He was a civil engineer in his thirties who enlisted in the SeeBees (Construction Battalion) in the Navy. I have always loved history and, as a kid, would always find ways to try to get information about this. I found out it was hot on Iwo Jima and those other islands, that he learned to drink beer (formaldehyde an ingredient maybe?) because the water was so bad and would make you really sick, and that all his uniforms were packed away in the very back of a big old closet in our old farmhouse. One of my earliest memories (about 2-3years old), is sitting with my dad in our big old chair until it was time to give his aging and ill parents their medication. When the one channel would go off the air, "The Star Spangled Banner" would play and a waving flag was shown. He and I would stand up and salute the flag together until this ended. Then he would give his parents their medicine in their beds and then carry me to my bed and everyone in the house would go to sleep.
I knew he would often go the Veteran's of Foreign Wars but I just thought of it as somewhere he and those other men went to drink...and I didn't like it. I knew he was furious in the 1960s and 1970s when the flag was burned and our country's government and the Viet Nam war was attacked and demeaned.
He and I had many discussions that always became arguments over war and peace and what was worth dying over and who got to make those decisions anyway....I saw him always participate in honor guards at veteran's funerals, even if he didn't know them.
At some time when I was in grade school, he volunteered to put flags on graves in several cemetaries in our community. He bundled up all the flags in our old dusty car and he, my mom, and all we kids headed out. We had a very small and what turned out to be a usually incorrect list of the graves which should have flags. It took hours but we ended up having fun and, while I didn't learn much of anything about my dad's service, I did learn about respect and gratitude for those veterans of all wars who gave their lives. We did it again the next year, and the next year, and it became our yearly job to put out and take down the flags. Volunteers were no longer needed. Over time we made longer and newer lists and came up with maps of locations and names. This was a tradition that those of us who had moved out would come back to do. The year so long ago when my father died in August, he had rested better at the end of May when his children went out and put up the flags.
My dad who would talk about everything would never talk about his war. But I learned to honor these men who risked and gave absolutely everything. I learned that my idealogy and philosophy of war and peace had nothing to do with the very real people on those front lines who were maimed, killed, or wounded in body and mind. Today, in all humility, I honor my father and all veterans of all wars who gave and lost more than any of the rest of us can know.