Memorial Day 2020: Letter to Michael

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Rick Courtright

Hawkeye
Joined
Mar 10, 2002
Messages
7,897
Location
Redlands CA USA
Hi,

And a happy Memorial Day weekend to all!

Most years, Memorial Day has a certain sameness, partly traditional, partly out of habit. Camping trips, BBQs, the beach, maybe the mountains, and, for me at least, a trip to "visit" some of my friends who rest peacefully at Riverside National Cemetery. Most years, I'll go on Sunday evening, late, so the crowds aren't there yet like they will be the next morning. Every grave has a flag, and sunny or gray, it doesn't seem to matter what the day is like, the sun makes a valiant effort to put on a great sunset to say "Good night" to those friends I'm there to see.

But this year has no sameness anywhere in our lives. The coronavirus pandemic has changed all our lives in so many ways, some temporary, some probably permanent. For example, they haven't been having regular memorial services at RNC, because of the "no crowds" rule. So a lot of folks have been buried, only to wait until later for their families and friends to come and memorialize them. Part of that I understand, and adhere to, but there's a part of me that rebels, at least inside, and says "Let these people take the risk if they wish and have a regular service--the person they're saying 'Good bye' to may very well have taken risks for them far worse than being exposed to a disease, even a potentially fatal one." But I don't make the rules so I can just say a prayer that those grieving families find a way to get through with that grief, however they must do it. To tell the truth, I don't even know what the ceremonies will be like this year. Will people come out regardless? I just don't know.

That said, for a number of years I've reposted a letter here for Memorial Day. It was written by Wolfsong, to his own lost brother, and it's put a lump in my throat every year when he's given me permission to post it again, just the other day for this year in fact. But I'm going to do it a little differently this year, to help us understand why the letter was written, and maybe to help keep our feet on the ground and remember some things don't change. I'm going to post Wolfsong's entire Forum post from that first year, so you can share in his thoughts before reading his "Letter to Michael."

Please enjoy the whole post again, and I hope if Wolfsong's words cause a little "blurry screen syndrome" you'll know you're in good company!

Thank you, Wolfsong, and folks, whether this is your first time reading the whole thing, or you remember it from the first time it was posted, please enjoy!

Rick C

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For Wolfsong,

I wrote this post after listening to many people at work ( I work for the Dept. of Corrections at a women's prison) making their plans for the Memorial Day weekend. Many were complaining that the lakes, highways and campgrounds would be crowded, and I couldn't help thinking of our cemeteries crowded with our fallen soldiers. I didn't hear ONE person acknowledge or give mention of the price that so many have paid to allow them this "paid" holiday, and I thought "you selfish bastards". So I came home and wrote this tribute letter. It's kind of long, I hope you don't mind.

Peace and God bless, Wolfsong.
---
Michael, my brother, I'm thinking about you this Memorial Day weekend, as I think of you just about every day. You answered our country's call, and off to Viet Nam you went, to fight in a real war, with real guns and real bullets, while I was playing with my toy guns and wearing dad's old Army trench coat and campaign hat from the 101st Airborne. How I envied you and wished I was going off to fight with you, thinking that this is what brothers do. I was so sad when you left without me. I thought you didn't like me anymore and didn't want to play with me again. I didn't understand or even began to think that there was such a huge gap between 12 and 18. I didn't see it that way - you were my brother, we were both boys, and our dad was the man of the house.

I remember the times that you and I would watch the old World War II movies with dad, and how much us kids enjoyed the heroics of John Wayne and Audie Murphy. I remember how quiet dad was while we watched, but I didn't pay it much attention. I remember that after you left to go fight without me that dad stopped watching the news. Dad always watched the news. I didn't ask him why he stopped watching; actually I was happy, because that meant I didn't have to watch some old boring newscaster talking about stuff I couldn't understand. Now I know why he wouldn't watch. He did not want the reminder staring him in the face that you were in harm's way, doing your duty and serving our great country. I know he was proud of you, but I also know now that he was afraid.

Dad would never show his fear to us, of course. He was that old, tough Swede cattle rancher who was a walking God to us as we grew up. He could do no wrong, he could fix, build, heal, and do anything. And you and I both worshiped him. Little did I know that he was merely a man who held fear in his heart, a fear that was born when he jumped into Normandy on that June day in 1944 and a fear that continued to grow with each successive day that he spent fighting in that terrible war.

I suppose that he conquered that fear, if that is possible for a man to do, or at least he buried it deep down in some place that he never showed to us. Looking back, I see that his fear returned when you went off to fight. I see now that his fear consumed him, because it was a helpless fear, one that he could not overcome, because he was merely a spectator from far away, powerless to change it. But I didn't see that back then. I saw, instead, a father who grew quiet, and a brother who left me behind. I resented you both for a little while, but as young boys do, I found other friends and adventures to replace those things that were changed and lost to me.

It's not that I stopped loving you; after all, you were my brother. But I did resent you and your great adventure. For awhile, you still teased me in your letters from boot camp and training camp, but gradually the teasing stopped after you shipped out. You spoke instead of my responsibility to take your place as the protector of our sisters while you were gone. You spoke of my duty to help dad more and to be a good boy for mom. And then your letters didn't come any more.

I remember the day when dad told me the news that you had died in Viet Nam. It is the only time I saw dad cry. I tried not to cry, I tried to be strong for you and for dad, but I did cry, Mike. I cried for you and for dad. And for me, little selfish me, who was mad at you for leaving me behind once, and for leaving me behind again.

That was many years ago. Dad and mom are both gone, and I am the man of the family now. I often think of the lessons learned from you and dad. I still have the baseball glove that you bought me for my 12th birthday. A Willie Mays model. I guess you got tired of me always borrowing your glove, or maybe you figured that I had earned it. I'd like to think that I earned it, in your eyes.

I'd like to think that I have been a good protector for our sisters. I'd like to think that you and dad approve of what I've done with all that you both have taught me. I'd like to think of both of you as my heroes still. I'd like to think that you wished I was with you for at least one moment of one day back in 1969. I wished that I was there for that moment. Because I wanted to tell you one more time that I loved you, brother.

I know now how it feels to be helpless with fear, like dad was when you left. I know now what it feels like to be powerless to protect at all times those whom you love. I know now what it feels like to lose the life of one so close, and so young, and be powerless to prevent it. I know now what mom and dad felt when you came home wrapped in our flag. I didn't really know it then, I was so young. But now I know.

Most of all, I know the sacrifice that you and so many others have made for those of us who have never had to pick up a weapon and defend those who couldn't defend themselves, whether it was Americans, or Vietnamese, or Frenchmen or Englishmen. I know now that EVERY day should be a memorial to all of those who have fallen in service. I know that I miss you still, and I know that I cry for you, brother.

Monday, Memorial Day, I will fly each flag of our grandfather's, our father's and yours. I don't know if that is against protocol or not; I don't care. I am proud of all of you, I am proud to be your grandson, son, brother.

But I am most proud of you, Mike. You gave your life for so many. I cherish my memories of you, I salute your comrades, and I honor you and your fallen hero brothers and sisters. I should have done this a long, long time ago.

God bless you, brother. God bless all of those who have died for this great country. God bless all of those who defend us now. God bless America.


Peace and God bless, your brother.
 

eveled

Hunter
Joined
Apr 3, 2012
Messages
4,226
We ask so much of our fighting men and women. We forget the toll on those left at home. God bless them all.
 

AJGUNNER

Hunter
Joined
Jan 15, 2007
Messages
2,187
Location
The Sticks---N.W. Orygun
As I just read this is was coming to me as the voice of Gary Sinise. It turned on my water works the same as it did last night as I sat and watched the PBS show with the last survivors of the Arizona. The show was a few years old and they were presenting the medal to their rescuer posthumously, 47 years after he had disobeyed orders and saved them from the burning rubble.

Thanks again for sharing.
 
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