Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Favorite Veteran

Until March 20, 2014, World War II was for me a living entity. A part of history, yes, of course. But because my father was a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber and flew 35 raids out of East Anglia, it was also a part of family lore. I grew up hearing tales of London during the war, meeting girls under the clock in Victoria station, coming back to base to find empty bunks and chairs after a raid.

Since Dad died, the personal part of the war is by and large over me for me. It's there only in a sepia-tinged way. Not my memories but someone else's.

On the other hand, Veteran's Day has taken on new meaning. Mom and I went to the cemetery on Sunday, left flowers by Dad's headstone. I looked for a small American flag to plant there, but small American flags are in short supply in November.

I stood for a minute in the wan autumn sun, looked out at the rolling hills, the grazing cattle in the distance. Dad would like this spot, would probably make a joke about it — hey, not bad for a grave.

The optimism and jauntiness that served him well in wartime kept him going throughout his long life. And it spilled over to others, too; it certainly did to me.

So Veteran's Day is no longer a musty, creaky holiday. It's about doing one's duty with a wink and a quip. It's about grace under pressure. It's about Dad.

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