“It’s the least we can do!”
Monday is Memorial Day! We observe Memorial Day on the last Monday of May honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. (Is this really the last Monday in May?) With the corona virus still holding us somewhat at bay, festivities will be limited, but not the thoughts of our collective hearts. Two hundred ninety-one thousand, five hundred fifty-seven mainly young Americans gave their lives in World War II, and thousands of thousands in other American conflicts and wars. In doing so, they sacrificed all future earthly goals and desires. Some were married with children, some would never have that opportunity. Their parents & spouses suffered the ultimate heartache.
During World War II, this is how parents and spouses found out: a telegram arrived at the door. Only on rare occasions, such as when a family lost multiple members, were chaplains and military officers sent to the home of the family. The telegram most often came by way of a young boy on a bike, with both the boy’s attire and the type of bike frighteningly distinctive. You couldn’t mistake who he was, and believe me, you wanted to, even more so if you had a son or a husband in combat. By the time Mother or wife read the opening lines of the telegram “We regret to inform you ...” horror had already set in, and was at that moment simply, bluntly, curtly, and horrifically confirmed. People standing on their front porches
would see the Western Union messenger boy riding down the sidewalk, and would literally cry out, “Keep going. Don't stop here.” But all-too-often, theirs was the unchangeable destination. The Boy never had to explain himself at the doorstep, for who he was and what message he was carrying was painfully and tragically evident. Often, mothers started screaming when they saw him coming up the driveway in his telltale leggings and brimmed cap. Ladies passed out on the sidewalk. If he arrived at the door undiscovered, near hysterics understandably followed. The boy, too young to fight or officially represent the government, brought the news at any hour. It was the knock at the door fatefully expected, nightmarishly dreaded, and yet 291,557 times that knock was heard.
I’ve never heard that knock, but Murial Watts did in early September, 1967. By then, it likely was a couple of Army men in their dress blue uniforms, but only the messenger had changed – the message was exactly the same. Her son and my friend, Wayne A. Watts, governmentally stated, “experienced a traumatic event which resulted in loss of life on September 10, 1967. Died through hostile action, small arms fire. Incident location: South Vietnam, Quang Ngai province.” The news didn’t come by telegram, but it was equally curt, blunt, and heartbreaking for his wife and for his mother and father.
Wayne was my hero long before he gave his life for me and for you. He was big, strong, athletic, handsome, and so full of life that it brimmed over every minute of his life. I was a mere freshman when he was a mighty senior at what was then Washington State Teachers’ College in Machias, Maine, but he took time for me, encouraged me, and even complimented me. I didn’t even know that he knew me, but he stopped me one night coming home from my work shift at Kimball Hall, and gave me the privilege of his fellowship. He was all man, and I was all boy. He was a star on the basketball team, and I was an intramural player, but he told me that I could be what he was.
It turns out that he was wrong on that point, but I don’t hold that against him. I played on the team and I served during Vietnam, but I never was what he was. I guess, like a lot of heroes, he just didn’t know how great he really was. But I do, and I will never forget.
They’re all heroes, and this weekend especially, The Nation pauses and honors each and every one of them! It’s the least we can do, for all they did for us.
Love and Prayers to all,