I was a little surprised when I
answered my phone and heard Paulette Summey, the assistant to the
county mayor, ask if I would like to place the wreath on the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial during the ceremony held at the courthouse on the
It's not a secret my father was
killed in the Vietnam War, but it's not something that comes up
often in casual conversation. Usually if I meet someone for the first
time and I'm asked about my parents, I'll just say my mother is
the only one still with us. Most people are too polite to ask, "What
happened to your father?"
Over the years (and there are starting
to be a lot of years), I've watched and taken pictures of lots of
people placing wreaths on monuments. It never occurred to me that I
could do it. I never came close to serving in the military and I
always felt like surviving spouses and parents had much more of a
right to such events than surviving children (which is how my mother
came to be with me at the service on Memorial Day).
I have been asked, over the years, how
much I think my life would have been different if my father had
survived. And it is something I have given thought to over the years.
I never knew my father, being only 10 months old when he was killed
in a country 10,000 miles from home. But from what I have been told,
I think my life would have been markedly different.
I can't say it would have been a good
or bad different. Who could possibly know that? And while I think my
love of reading and writing would have still been there, thanks to my
mother's influence, there would have been things I would've known
that I don't have the first clue about now.
I have been told by "older" relatives who look at me and say there's a resemblance, that, "Well, we know now what Butch would have looked like in middle
age." But beyond that, I don't know if there's much resemblance
between my father and the man I've become.
It's hard to say you're just like
your father when your father died three months after his 20th
birthday. Very few people are the person they will be remembered as
when they're 20. Most people would cringe if told they remained,
for the rest of their life, what they were at 20.
So, my father liked hunting, but as my
grandmother once told me, if you had to go find him, he was just as
likely to be sitting on a fallen tree or rock, staring out at the
world, as he was to be chasing down some animal. I have never hunted
in my life, but I do like to sit and stare at the world.
And there wasn't really much beyond
that. He was just starting out in life, then he was gone, as were so
many others. When I reached the age my father died at I began to
count how many more days I got to live than he did, but the numbers
became too large after a certain point. I've now lived more than
twice as long as he did, and barring accidents and disease, I've
probably got at least another 30 years to go.
All those names on all those walls are
more than just a name, as the Statler Brothers once sang, and for a
very brief moment, I got to rekindle the memory of a man who has been
gone for more than 45 years now. It's nothing compared to what he
gave, but I'm glad I got to do it.
In my research on Memorial Day, I came
across a list of how many died in each war, courtesy of the U.S.
Department of Defense. I leave you with it and hope you never have to
wonder what might have been.
American Revolution: 4,435
War of 1812: 2,260
Indian Wars: Estimated 1,000
Mexican War: 13,283
Civil War: 498,332
Spanish-American War: 2,446
World War I: 116,516
World War II: 405,399
Korean War: 54,246
Vietnam War: 90,220
Desert Shield/Desert Storm: 1,948
Operation Iraqi Freedom: 4,422
Operation New Dawn: 66
Operation Enduring Freedom: 2,220
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