I visited my father's graveSubmitted by Ron Johnson on Mon, 05/28/2012 - 08:25
My father lies in a country graveyard in Michigan's Upper Penninsula. Etched in his headstone are the dates of his military service and the rank he achieved upon separation. Tech 4. Next to the stone is a brass flag holder with a small American flag standing stiffly in the rain. On the back of the headstone is a brass plaque memorializing his service in the U.S. Army, Pacific Theater, WWII.
The other graves around my father's carried names from my childhood...Buyarski, Rotter, Gruber, LaPointe, Neilio...many with plaques and flags and etchings. The WWII generation.
Young men, marching off to fight monsters, coming home to start a better life, with the belief they had done a fine and moral thing. That was my father. Proud of his participation in the greatest crusade in history to vanquish the greatest threat to peace the world has ever known. He truly believed this, down deep in his heart.
As a teen and young adult in the years immediately after the fall of Saigon, I would argue with him, saying that the U.S. of the post-WWII era was not the country our founder's had imagined. I made the case that our military was no longer the vanquisher of dragons, but had become the dragon itself. Ultimately our empire would collapse. Never!, he would reply. The U.S. will always be the strongest country in the world! We had unkind words, then tacitly let the subject die. Our two world views, forged by two different wars, could not be reconciled.
My father died in 1999, one day before my 42nd birthday. In the years preceding his death, we had not talked about current events at all. I was gone for many of those years, and a creeping brain disease was stealing what was left of his ability to grasp what was going on around him. But even at a fairly late date, he could recount the islands he was stationed on and the dates...he just couldn't remember if he had had breakfast or not. He did not live long enough to see a country cowering in fear, continuous war, spying, money manipulations, UN resolutions, and blatant corruption. I cannot know for certain, but I believe he would have been distressed by what happened to the world his generation helped to create. This is not what they believed they went to war for.
I stood by his grave yesterday. A deep sadness came over me...my wife took my arm when she saw my distress...as I thought about him and his life. He was a good, honest man who tried to do the right things, but who had all the normal human faults and frailties that I,too, carry inside of me. I did not think of our arguments, or our disagreements, or the unkind things that we once said. I said out loud, while looking down at the headstone, 'I wonder what he would think of me...'
My wife, ever supportive, said 'he would be proud.'