Memorial Day is for Kids, Too II

In December 1965, Mary Beth wore a black armband to school to mourn those lost in the Vietnam War. Less than a year later, my uncle — my mom’s only  brother and only sibling — would be part of that group.

As she mentioned in her post earlier today, one of the more touching moments that often happens when Mary Beth talks to a group of students about her case is when she asks whether there are any students in the audience with family members currently at war.

At each stop I attended, a surprising number of students raised their hand and volunteered information about one of their aunts or uncles, a brother or sister and occasionally a mom or dad. It’s pretty clear, from the emotion that surfaces that it’s not something most of the kids have really talked about. Looking back, it’s not something I talked about when — two years after my uncle’s plane was shot down over Vietnam, leaving behind my aunt and five cousins — my dad took off for Vietnam where he would also spend a year as a fighter pilot.

The author's cousins (circa 1965)

The author’s cousins (circa 1965)

So as the students share their stories with Mary Beth, I feel them deeply. It’s been over four decades, but my emotions about that time also seem to remain pretty close to the surface.

As I said, it’s not something I talked about. It’s not something I recall being asked about. I was six years old living with my mom, my three younger brothers and her parents for the year in a small, non-military town in Washington State where our everyday life was worlds away from Southeast Asia. But it was absolutely something I thought about. All the time. And though my grandparents and mom did their best to keep things “normal,” I would watch Walter Cronkite every night — just like Mary Beth and her sister — often having to peek in from another room. And while it was upsetting, I think there was some comfort in feeling I was being told the truth — and in not pretending, just for a while, that everything was just fine and that our life hadn’t been turned completely topsy-turvy. Or pretending that a single knock on the front door couldn’t be the one that once again changed all of our lives forever. The truth was oddly comforting.

Kids notice. We might try to pretend or wish that they don’t, but they notice everything.

This Memorial Day it’s important to remember not only those soldiers who didn’t come back — and all those who are currently serving — but also all whom those soldiers have left behind. Memorial Day for them is very real.

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