By Piper Bayard
My family will gather at the graves today. As I think on The Ones Who Have Gone Before, echos of laughter, adages, card games, and dipped chocolates bring them to life from the mists of my memory. Each of them played a part in making me who I am.
Of them all, though, there is one in particular who I am remembering this Memorial Day Weekend. I’ve heard that we often forget what people say and do, but we never forget how we feel when we are with them. When I remember my cousin, Lee, I feel loved, safe, and happy.
I said good-bye to Lee at the airport in 1967. The year America’s graduating class went to Viet Nam. I was three years old. I called him Spook because he was born on Halloween. He called me Skunk. Probably because I was three years old.
I didn’t understand much about what was happening over there or what those little silhouette figures of bodies were on the evening news each night. But I did understand how happy we all were when he came home.
For him, the war was over except for whatever memories he would need to resolve. He married a beautiful young woman who also radiated love, safety, and laughter. His foundation for a good life was well-laid, and the world was in front of him.
When we got the phone call shortly after their marriage, it was the first time I ever saw my father cry. “He’s not dead, yet,” he said as he hung up the phone, and my mother took him in her arms.
I ran to my friend’s, and we hid in the bushes behind her house, trying to make sense of what it meant to die of cancer. It was only a few months until the funeral. I wouldn’t know for years that it was most likely due to the Agent Orange.
Somehow, I ended up with his black mohair sweater. I probably pulled it out of a box destined for Goodwill. I needed some token. Some cocoon that would wrap me in the love, safety, and happiness that I always felt when I was with him. Unless my family reads this blog, they will never know my daughter’s middle name is in his honor.
We hear a lot about Special Forces, Navy Seals, and Green Berets, but most of our veterans are none of those. They are like Lee. Men and women who answer their country’s call. They do their duty, often risking their lives. Often losing them. The ones who survive grow and change, collect their scars, and move on as best they can without any lauds or fanfare.
To all veterans, thank you for your service. Like the faces from the mists of my memory, I would not be who I am and have the life I have without you.
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Today, I’m heading to Vancouver Island with my family, leaving our house sitter, Parker, in charge of our turtle and guinea pig for the next two weeks. Since I will have no telephone and only spotty internet, I wish you well now. Holmes and I will return on June 10. Have a great two weeks!
All the best to all of you in building memories of love, safety, and laughter.
What a lovely tribute. A heartfelt salute to all veterans, both living and dead, this Memorial Day.
Thank You Heather
Y’all have a fun and safe hiatus from the mad world of social media. It did me a lot of good to get away for a week.
As for your point about most soldiers being one of the many, I agree. My uncle Earl went to Viet Nam instead of college. He became a medic–one of the many. Even though he wasn’t a war celebrity, he did a good job serving his country. And so did your cousin, Lee. Bless them both.
Piper, I’ve been wrestling with the way our military is treated. I finished Rachel Maddow’s book Drift yesterday. As a vet it was a seachange. It’s going to be Monday’s blog. I’m beginning to have doubts about the left and the right and their relationship with the Armed Forces.
Hi tomwisk. You touch on a complex subject.
This is beautiful. Beyond beautiful. You were blessed to have your cousin Lee in your life. I often wonder about the way our government treats the men and women who risk their lives as well as their emotional and physical health. We forget our veterans too easily.
Hi Renee. I do not forget them. They are with me when I wake in the morning. They are with me when sleep comes.
This is a beautiful tribute to your cousin, Piper. What a shame he died so young. Such a loss. Thank you for such a poignant post. Have a wonderful vacation. See you when you get back.
Hi Lynn. The man that ordered Agent Orange to be used was Admiral Zumwalt. He did so with the belief that he would save American and civilian lives by denying cover to NVA and Viet Cong forces on the move. His son was a swift boat skipper in the Mekong and died of cancer due to Agent Orange.
Until his passing in 2000 Admiral Zumwalt dedicated his retirement to caring for his grandson who was born with severe learning disabilities due to his father’s Agent Orange exposure. He and his wife left a trust for the care of their grandson.
We have never fully dealt with the consequences of Agent Orange. Dupont had no idea what the effects were when they presented it to the military as a miracle weapon. The consequences of that “miracle” are still impacting Viet Nam veterans here in the SA and civilians in South Viet Nam today.
A beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing.
What a precious post! Thanks so much, Piper. You’ve inspired some important pause.
while you were away I nominated you for The Versatile Blogger Award
Thank you, Jane! I’m honored. 🙂
Hi. Thanks for coming by.
Thank You Jenny