what were your plans for the last long weekend of May?...

 What are your plans for the last, long weekend in May when most Americans will enjoy a day away from work and school? Will you take time on Memorial Day to remember and honor those who have dedicated their lives to our country?

Reflecting on three family members - I will love eternally - who served our country stirred this story. I see their faces, feel their love, and recount with honor, pride, and joy the ‘slim pickings’ of what they shared about their duty of service in the army and navy. Memories of each of them swirl inside as do winds of approaching storms that cause me to gaze into the May sky with wonder.  My husband, daddy, and father in law live in heaven and in … my heart!  

James, my husband of two years, and I loved sharing stories about our day during dinner. One night, I told James about taking the Sonshine Kids to salute Mr. Billy at Farmer’s Hardware. James lit up like our singing Christmas tree and let loose with ‘Billy and James Army stories’ that left me longing to hear more. James, the middle son of Herbert and Willa Vann, newly married to his high school sweetheart, Sarah, bravely dealt with being drafted in the early seventies.  He told of coming to Clinton, saying good-by to his family, and climbing into the canvas covered back of an army truck filled with strangers (local young men) being swept away from home to serve their country. James’ humility and shyness kept him quiet during the long ride to ‘boot camp’, but the guy from Clinton sitting beside him - put their my the One who had James (and has all His children) engraved on the palm of His Hand - defended James when he was picked on for being quiet and refusing a cigarette.

James said, “Billy and I became buddies in the Army, stuck up for one another through tough times away from home, and we’re still good friends today.”

After we were married, James and were cleaning out his house and came across a photo album of Army pictures.  We sat down in the middle of his den floor for the longest time as he pointed to pictures and told about his duties of service and the joyful arrival of Sarah in Germany.  They had a small apartment and were blessed to be together for the rest of his service time there.

Mr. Odell, my father in law, shared sailor stories with Tim about loading guns on the ship where he was stationed. Tim said his Dad told him it was so loud when those guns boomed and it seemed the war would never end.  I never heard first hand stories from my father in law but cherish the pictures of him dressed in sailor suit and cap. Oh, how handsome he was!

Daddy, my hero, was also handsome and shied away from telling sailor stories.  One day when Daddy and I were taking a break from working at our country store to watch a baseball game on our black and white television with aluminum foiled rabbit ears, the subject came up during a commercial about the Navy.  Sitting on the floor beside his recliner, my ears stood at attention as he shared about working on a huge warship and missing his future wife…my mother!  Daddy told about his father serving in World War I and two of his brothers being drafted during World War II.  When Daddy didn’t get drafted (being the son left to keep the family farm going), he slipped and joined the Navy. For a few precious moments, he shared war stories I soaked up like a sponge, like when his brother, Bronzie, was killed on Friday, April 13, 1945 while helping blow up a bridge over the Ruhr River in Germany.  Uncle Bronzie’s heroic efforts to go back and make sure the dynamite was in place, as German forces approached the bridge, ended his life here and earned him the coveted Purple Heart. 

When mother passed away in 2001 and my siblings and I divided precious treasures, I was elated to receive her box of love letters.  In 2010, I finally sat down in my prayer room and read daddy’s and mother’s letters to one another.  Their words were testimonies of devoted love that deeply touched their daughter’s heart seventy seven years after they were written.  I divided the love letters into five stacks, attached my own love letter, and sent them to my three siblings and two sons. Sharing stories of war and peace can keep families in touch and strongly united.

Writing this Memorial Day story has stirred memories of dearly beloved family members living in heaven.  Picturing my daddy and father in law in their sailor suits with his wavy blonde and straight black hair and James in his Army uniform with hat covering his red hair, I thanked God for each of them, for the years they served their country proudly, for the wonderful years we shared loving and looking after one another as family, and for the peace of knowing they are where God is!

Are you also thinking of family members who served faithfully, shared few facts, and are in heaven as you honor their memory and service to America this weekend?  Let us take time to recount each precious memory we have of their time spent serving God, country, and family!  Oh, the joy of sharing stories of those we love and respect who have colored our world with love…and made the world a better place to live!

James Garfield said, “For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

“Heroism doesn’t always happen in a burst of glory. Sometimes small triumphs and large hearts change the course of history”   Mary Roach

President Roosevelt declared, “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”

His wife, Eleanor, said.  “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being.  With freedom comes responsibility.”

Words by President John Kennedy end this story with a challenge for each of us.  “As we express our gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them!”

God bless America, the land of the brave and the free!  And Father, please forgive us when we take life and liberty for granted and forget to give glory and honor to THEE!  Amen