It was not long after our family arrived in the Washington DC area that my husband was promoted to a higher rank in the Air Force. My father in law came out from Wyoming to attend the promotion ceremony. The kids were excited to have Grandpa visit, and toss the ole pigskin around the back yard with them.
The weather was beautiful for October, it was warm and felt more like a mid-summer day than mid-fall. Given the gorgeous weather, it was decided we would trek into DC, walk along The Mall and see the various war memorials.
After a brief Metro ride, we arrived at The Mall. As we strolled along, my father-in law was talkative, joking with the kids. Talking to them about the various flags flying and asking the kids to name the many states we’d all lived in or visited. We made our way down the Mall, stopping to buy incredibly overpriced ice cream and sitting on a bench to people watch. Still chatting, still enjoying the gorgeous weather. Even dipping our feet in the big fountain at the World War II Memorial.
In a bit, we walked over towards the Korean War Memorial. Close to this memorial is a kiosk where a person can go in and look up the name of a Veteran and get a printout of information such as if the individual was injured or killed in action. My father-in- law went in to the little hut and came out holding a sheet of paper. He signaled to us with a small wave and we all made our way over to the Korean War Memorial. My father-in-law paused in front of the granite wall, and stood silently for a moment. and then he quietly cried as he clutched that piece of paper in his hand. You see, his brother died in the Korean War. They both served, but only one of them came home. For my father-in-law, who was unable to attend his brother’s funeral, this moment became his brother's memorial service. Standing before this wall, holding confirmation of his brother’s death, served as his final farewell to his brother. It had been a long time coming.
No one in our family had been prepared for the emotional reaction from my father-in-law. He was the happy-go- lucky sort. I’d never seen him cry, I’d seen him frown twice, at most. But now? Tears were streaming down his cheeks as he faced the undeniable reality of his brother’s death. My husband, our kids and I all stood there bearing witness as my father-in-law let go of the weight of the unexpressed grief he had shouldered for so many years. His brother, gone but not forgotten, and now remembered once more for the man he was and why he died.
Our children asked why grandpa was crying and we told them, "Grandpa is sad, he misses his brother who died a long time ago in a war." Our older son asked if it would be okay for him to go over and hug Grandpa. I told him, “Of course, go hug.” And he hugged his Grandpa. It was a tender scene-- the two of them embracing in front of the statues of infantry men with heavy packs upon their backs.
It appeared as if a door, long shut shut for my father-in-law, now swung wide open and he was able to talk about his experiences in the Army- previously he had merely brushed off any questions with “That was a long time ago. I can’t remember.” On this day, his recall was vivid, the stories he told sounded like the stuff movies are made of, only it was all true- Even the one about him driving Elvis around in the jeep in Germany. I'd seen the picture of my father in law and The King a few years ago, but at the time my father in law didn't say much more than, "Yup. I met Elvis." The rest of the afternoon Grandpa opened up about his memories of serving in the Army,his fallen brother and the others-fathers, sons,husbands, uncles-who never made it back home to their families.
I can only imagine if my father in law had been able to write his experiences as blog posts. Not only would there be a written account of his military service experiences, he may have had an outlet for his grief, and received support, encouragement and more than a few Hooah's. And I know it's true from my own experiences online.
Almost twenty years ago I learned the word, "Deployed" because I had to use it in the sentence, "My husband is deployed." I was newly married, 23 years old and living in Shreveport, Louisiana, by force--Air Force that is. Our first year of marriage, I spent two months out of the 12 with my husband and it wasn't even sixty days in a row. More like 4 days here, one week there. Divided by 6 weeks of deployment and one week of being "on alert." During the months he was gone, I would stay up late glued to CNN. The way I talked about Wolf Blitzer, Colin Powell and General Schwarzkopf you'd have thought they were all sharing an apartment with me. But back in that day, blogging wasn't as commonplace, and Facebook didn't exist. Twitter? Feh. Had any of it existed, my experience would have been vastly different. The online community of milspouses these days is incredible, the milblogosphere is surprisingly diverse. I am honored to be a part of this unconventional sorority who are in one way or another affiliated with the military. Before you fire up the grill or hit the beach on Memorial Day take a moment, go over and read some of the women who are blogging their way through military life.
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