Editor's note: Columnist Alexis Powers teaches a writing workshop at the Oro Valley Library. One of the workshop participants, Gail Bornfield, wrote this essay.
We are ushering in a time of reflection for those who sacrificed their lives defending the ideals of this nation. As we approach Memorial Day on Monday, thoughts of fallen heroes arriving at Dover Air Force Base draped in the Stars and Stripes come to mind. Some will travel to Arlington National Cemetery to find their final resting place among the many rows of white crosses. Others will find their way home to cities and small towns across this country to be laid to rest near their families.
Many of these valiant souls return missing parts of their bodies.
As family, we remember them not as heroes but as loved ones with flashing dark eyes and loving hearts. We remember their laughter as well as their sorrows. We try to remember the sound of their voices and the feeling we had when they entered a room.
My father was injured during World War II. He did not die right away, so he is not considered a fallen hero. He died many years later from his injuries, which were both mental and physical. For more than half his life he lived with the ghosts of war, which haunted him relentlessly.
He has been gone for many years. Each year a flag is placed at his grave recognizing his service to this country that he loved. He was proud to be an American, truly understanding what this country stands for. Although he rarely spoke of the war, those of us who knew him and loved him were aware that the horrors of war were always present.
Through the years we learned that he was the sole survivor of a small group of men he often referred to as heroes. He could recite each of their stories with a tenderness and love that only a close friend could feel. The memories most often ended with the question, "Why them? Why not me?"
Today we call that survivor's guilt. But at the time this sadness had no name. We just knew that the question haunted him.
Like many veterans of his era, he came home from the battlefield, found a job and began raising his family. There were no services available - no thought that he might have unmet needs. He knew when he stepped onto U.S. soil that he was expected to put the war behind him and go back to his life as if nothing had changed. To his credit, he gave it every effort.
It is odd that we ask more of our veterans as they return than we did when they were deployed. When they leave, we expect them to defend this nation with courage - a clear directive. When they return, the expectations are less clear. The reality of the very personal price of war must be faced by each as they move into their lives at home. And the ghosts must be subdued.
If my father were here, I would hug him dearly. I'd tell him how much I appreciate what he did for our family and our country. Perhaps I'd be able to assure him that he was spared so his family would enjoy the years with him.
And perhaps I could convince him his life was spared so his daughter would always remember that her father would always be a true hero in her eyes.
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