WHAT DOES MEMORIAL DAY MEAN TO YOU?

May 24, 2020

I have many feelings about Memorial Day.  It got it’s origin in 1886 from Commander in Chief John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic.  He issued General Order Number 11 designating May 30 as a Memorial Day. It had actually started after the Civil War to honor the fallen from both sides of the war.

In 1968, Congress passed a bill declaring that Memorial Day would be observed the last Monday of May.  That made it part of a three day holiday and the unofficial beginning of summer.  There were times in the past that Memorial Day was referred to as Decoration Day.

Much of Memorial Day is indeed dedicated to those who died serving in the Military.  But I have seen a much broader acceptance of Memorial Day as a day to celebrate anyone’s death -whether from military combat or even natural causes.

I like to honor those who died during service to their country.  But I have been privileged to know closely many who served in the military who did not die in combat, yet part of their spirit was dead, to a degree, for the rest of their lives, simply due to combat they had experienced.

The first was my Granddaddy Jay Sinclair.  He served in WWI, and saw much combat.  I learned about it one night when I was spending the night with him when I was about six years old.  We always slept in the same bed when I would spend the night.  My Grandmother Mae and her mother slept in another bed adjacent to us.

After we had been lying in bed together and Granddaddy telling me some of his stories he thought I would be interested in, I foolishly asked him this question (I was too young to know better), “Granddaddy, did you ever kill anyone when you were in the Army?“ To this day I still remember that long, pregnant pause.  I thought he had fallen asleep.  But then he said to me, “Son, don’t ever ask me anything about that war again.  When you get older, you will understand.”

The next morning when Grandmother Mae was making my breakfast and Granddaddy Jay was outside doing his chores, Grandmother told me, “Spencer, I heard you ask your Granddaddy that question last night whether he had ever killed anybody.  Well, he did.  Lots of men.  I never knew the details of his war years until we had been married several years.  He just did not want to discuss it.  But one night while we were sleeping, he woke up screaming and saying “Look out, they’re over there”, I knew he was having some kind of terrible nightmare, and I shook him until I got him awake.  He told me he was having visions of when he was in combat.  He told me such horrible stories that I promised him I would never do anything to remind him of that terrible time of his life.”  And then she said, “And I never did.”

The only two other times Granddaddy mentioned that war was to his grandchildren while we were all quite young.  I don’t remember how this subject came up, but we were discussing some prominent figure we read about in our Weekly Reader that we got from school, who declared that he was an atheist.  Granddaddy picked up on our discussion and said, “I’ll tell you kids, there’s no such thing as an atheist when men are in combat fighting for their lives.  I saw hardened men screaming out for God to help them when their lives were in danger.”

That other mention of his Army days was when he told us about him once having a cup of coffee with Sargent York.  I didn’t know much at all about even who Sargent York was until I was nearly grown.  But I always knew that that Granddaddy’s war experience had shaped the rest of his life.

One of the  other persons I knew well who had been in combat was my late brother, David.  He was a Marine and was sent straight to Vietnam as soon as he finished boot camp.  He didn’t like to talk about those combat ordeals he was involved in, either.  But he did tell me once about his best friend who he joined the Marines with in what was referred to as a Buddy program.  They were both promised they would always be kept together while in the Marines.  And they were.  I was telling David an experience I personally knew about when a teenage boy and girl got of the school bus one afternoon and saw their Dad pinned under the car he was working on when the jack collapsed.  I told David how that boy, by himself, picked up the whole front end of that car while his sister dragged their Daddy out and called 911.  Fortunately, the man lived.

That’s when David started his story.  He said, “Yes, I know that feeling of supernatural human strength.  It happened to me when Chris stepped on a booby trap in Vietnam.  He was blown up bad.  But I told my lieutenant I was going to run Chris back to better medical facilities where he would have a better chance of getting patched up, and hopefully live.  David said his lieutenant said, “Go, and good luck.”

David said it was two miles away, but he never stopped even once for rest. He said he kept talking to Chris and encouraging him to hang on.  He said when he wasn’t talking to Chris he was praying for divine strength to get Chris to camp as soon as he could. Unfortunately, Chris bled to death just before getting to camp.  That experience shaped David, too, for the rest of his life.

I told that story and some others I knew about of David’s combat at his funeral I preached.  Many told me that was the best eulogy they had ever heard.

The other man was a WWII veteran. He told me of once being in combat for 58 days straight before he was shot up and eventually discharged from the Army.  He told me many horrible stories of combat.  I asked him once if he had received a Purple Heart.  He said he had not, that he was told he would receive one, but he guessed they were just too busy to ever get all his paperwork processed.

The next day, I called a U.S. Senator I knew from Arkansas.  After hearing the story about Fred, and his being in very poor health, the Senator told me he would look into it immediately and get Fred his Purple Heart.  The Senator called me within about two weeks and said he got it done, that Fred’s Purple Heart would be brought to him by a delegation of Army personnel.  I asked the Senator to let me know the exact time the Purple Heart would be delivered to Fred’s home so we could surprise him with his family and church friends all being present and the newspaper people being at his home to take pictures and cover the story.  The Senator said he would let me know and said, “I’ll be there, too.”
It was a great day for Fred.  And the paper made the event a front-page story.

I could write a book about people I know who served their country well as soldiers. But all our dead should be honored on Memorial Day.

Take time to do something special for a Vet.  And don’t forget your friends and family who should also be remembered.

God Bless You,
Spencer Plumley

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