Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flags of Our Fathers

I love photo editing software. While I love you all to bits, it's really none of your business why my father was discharged from the Army. All you need to know is what it says at the top of the form. "Honorable."

My dad didn't go to Korea. He was stationed in a tech environment once he completed Basic. His assignment was as a photolithographer. This involved engraving patterns on circuit boards. My dad started out his adulthood as a computer geek of a sort. It's too bad he couldn't stick with it once he was discharged. However, if he had he wouldn't have ended up at Campbell's Soup where he met my mother and I wouldn't be here.

My dad was the only person I have ever met who loved Army food. He spoke of it fondly many times. Two of his favorite meals when I was a child were Spam and eggs and SOS. SOS is more commonly known as Creamed Chipped Beef. I still eat it. When I was small we had to buy dried beef in a little jar and make it from scratch, and my dad would go gaga these days over the fact that Stouffer's sells it frozen.

My dad eventually ended up working for the police department in the next town over as a dispatcher. Back then 911 didn't exist, and each department had folks on the force whose job was to answer the phone and direct the officers in the field. They were required to wear the standard uniform of the department, and if I shut my eyes I can see my father, having come home on a dinner break, standing in the dining room with his shiny black leather shoes that squeaked. I can see his belt holding his holstered revolver and his pair of cuffs. I have the cuffs right here. He had used an etcher to imprint his name on them, and one of the Es in Summerell is printed backwards. I have no idea if he had done that on purpose. I never got the chance to ask him.

On the day of his viewing I walked into the funeral parlor with my mother, and I saw two uniformed men, one on either side of his casket. I asked my mom why they were there and she told me my father had a 24 hour honor guard. I asked her why, and she told me it was because he was loved and respected. I was so proud of him. In a small way having those men there through the night made me feel better, because I didn't want him to be there all alone.

No one had given me a single heads up prior to the actual funeral, and I was surprised again the next day when I discovered his casket draped with the Flag. Again I questioned my mother, and she told me that he was being given a military funeral because he had been discharged honorably, and having served his country in whatever capacity he deserved one.

I was ok until the riflemen started firing their volleys as a salute. When I heard those guns crack through the air the tears started. To this day I cannot stand the sound of a rifle shot. On one New Year's Eve I spent the night at a friend's house, and her dad was a hunter. At midnight he took his rifle outside and fired it a few times. With each shot my heart hit my sternum and I had to go inside and sob in the bathroom.

When my dad's funeral ended they folded his flag and walked over to my grandmother. The soldier holding the flag said to her, "As a representative of the United States Army, it is my high privilege to present you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the grateful appreciation this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country and our flag by your loved one." I stood there as straight as a pin. The tears had stopped, and by this point I was numb. My grandmother then did what might have been the kindest and most thoughtful thing she had ever done in her life. She turned to me and handed me the flag. She said, "This should be yours."

And it is. I clutched that flag to my chest as tightly as I could. I placed it in a cedar chest when we got home, and it stayed there until I moved out of the house. My mother bought me a display box for it to keep it safe. When I have room to display it I do. Otherwise it is stored carefully in a closet. I pulled it from the closet the other day to pack it for our move, and I already know exactly where I'm putting it once we get there.

The kids will have to fight over who gets it someday. I refuse to make that determination. Maybe they can share custody.

Happy Veterans Day, everyone.


Stacia said...

Great post Julie! I love reading stories about fathers and daughters, for obvious reasons.

Cyn said...

I loved reading this post too. Happy Veterans Day, remembering your dad.

Julie said...

Thank you.

Both of you.

Chuck said...

This is sad and powerful and sweet.