Fifty years ago today I marched in the Elizabeth Pennsylvania Memorial Day Parade.
It was a family tradition for a number of years and in 1972 it would be my last one as a civilian. I had already joined the Navy in the delayed entry program and would leave a few weeks later.
I remember that weekend pretty well. It was cold and rainy. Dad had brought the houseboat down so we could use it and my grandfather’s boat for a wreath laying ceremony. But the night before it was raining pretty hard and it was pretty uncomfortable sleeping on the boat. It was pretty uncomfortable anyway since Dad and I were in the middle of one of our “fights”. For the life of me, I can’t remember what the fight was all about. There were a lot the last two years I lived in their house. I sadly will have to admit that most of them were my fault. So there wasn’t a lot of talking that night. And I missed being with my girlfriend. The realization that I was about to leave the place where I grew up in was settling in. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that the girlfriend would be around when I came back. That fear came true. But that is a story for a different day.
Morning finally came and we got dressed. Dad put on his American Legion uniform and I put on one of his old sets of Navy whites. In retrospect, I should have said no. And I should have gotten a haircut. The navy would fix that soon enough, but I felt out of place.
The Vietnam was still in progress and the crowds at the parades were pretty slim. You could still count on the band parents for the high school band that showed up, but year over year the numbers dwindled. I’m sure the peace demonstrations and riots were partially to blame but the country was tired of seeing her sons come home in caskets year after year with no resolution in sight.
But Dad and his friends stayed faithful. Even if there were only twenty or thirty people there, he made sure there would be a service. He also made sure we went too. I can remember getting drafted into service at one of many Memorial Day services. I can remember singing the national anthem, playing taps, reading the Gettysburg address, playing my baritone horn, or just marching. The speeches were about the men who died in faraway places. As a kid, I used to dream about many of those places. As a sailor and officer, I often found myself in many of them. But dying in combat was still a vague concept.
At the end of the parade in 1972, someone took a picture of me and the girl. She cried a lot the day I flew to Chicago for boot camp. So did my Mom. The stewardess on the plane felt bad for all these boys headed off to be in the Navy and was incredibly generous with the little bottles of booze. No, we were not old enough to drink. But yes we all learned a powerful life lesson when we got to the airport and got delayed in reaching our new home. We arrived at three AM with powerful headaches. Those headaches were exacerbated by the clanging on a steel shit can at 4:30 AM as we were hustled out of those unheated barracks to stand at attention. It was the first of many learning experiences.
I didn’t do too many Memorial Day services during my years of service. I’ve rarely missed any since I retired. Except this year. You may have noticed that I haven’t posted much this week. I decided to cut my retirement short and hep out a friend that needed a new Chief of Staff. He’s a pretty good guy and I think we make a good team. So, posting will be a little sketchy while I figure out my new role. I like the job. It uses a lot of my skills. I get to help him and my community. But I have had to cut back on other things in the meantime.
Debbie and I stayed home this morning. I have been thinking about my Dad a lot and have been a little melancholy. Maybe even a tad bit depressed. We cleaned his grave off yesterday and I was so happy that the day was bright and clear. The music they played in church right before we went to the cemetery was some of his favorites. I felt him sitting next to me in the old family pew.
So I didn’t march today. Didn’t listen to a single speech. Didn’t play an instrument or fire a gun. I just remembered. And felt sad for the loss of so much life and the sacrifices so many have made. And missed the man who made me who I am today.
I love you Dad. I know I will see you again someday.
I promise you that when I do, I’ll gladly carry the flag for your next parade.
Love, your son Bob