As this Memorial Day approaches I remember a powerful scene that expresses what I feel about this day. It comes from a book by the Kentucky writer, Bobbie Ann Mason. The book is called In Country and told a Memorial Day story in very human terms. The central figure in the story was Sam who lived in this tiny town in western Kentucky. Sam was conceived while her Daddy was home on leave but died in Vietnam before Sam was born. All her life she heard stories about her Daddy, Dwayne and tales about the in Southeast Asia. Emmett, a good friend of the family was also in that war and kept telling Sam about her Daddy and what a hard time it was. He told about many soldiers he knew who never came home. He also told her about all the Vietnam veterans who were on the streets or were crippled in mind or body. Sam took it all in and kept fantasizing about a Daddy she wished she had known.
Emmett decided one day that it would be a good thing to take Sam and her grandmother, Mamaw to see the Vietnam Memorial. He wanted them to see her father’s name on the monument. So one morning they got in Sam’s old car and drove to Washington. It took a long time. Mamaw brought a geranium to leave at the Memorial. Finally they got to Washington, fought the traffic, and found the sign which read: Viet Nam Veterans Memorial and an arrow pointing the way. Parking was a real problem but they found a spot on a side street. They got out of the car and helped Mamaw up the path to see the Memorial.
Emmett, Sam and Mamaw found the directory that told where all the names were. They finally found Dwayne’s name and the direction to where his name was. They found the section where the name was to be but there were so many names. They keep looking and way up high they saw the name: Dwayne E. Hughes. They just stood there looking up. Emmett took the Geranium from MaMaw and knelt down and placed it at the base of the granite panel. Mamaw said, “Oh, I wish I could touch it.” So Sam rescued a ladder from some workmen nearby, opened it. Slowly they helped Mamaw up rung after rung. She found the name of her grandson. Ever so slowly she reached up and touches his name. The old woman ran her hand over his name etched in granite. She didn’t say a word. After a long time she said, “Hep me down.”
Then it was Sam’s turn. She climbed up and touched the name of the Daddy she never knew. When she backed down the ladder Mamaw clutched her arm and said, “Coming up on this wall of a sudden and seeing how black it was, it was so awful, but then I came down in it and saw that white carnation blooming out of that crack and it gave me hope. It made me know he’s watching over us.”
This ought to be a day for memories. Remembering all those that have died for us and for this country. Remembering all the brave soldiers of all the professions who have worked and dreamed and labored and lived and loved. We would be different people were it not for some soldier, some teacher, some Mamaw—some person whose name is not inscribed on anybody’s wall—but it etched on the wall of our hearts. None of them died in vain. Take a few moments and remember all the fallen. It is touching time—running our memories over the names and the faces of all those who have made a difference in our lives.