It’s Memorial Day weekend and time for me to write my annual article honoring Harlan D. Miller who represents for me the universe of those who have fought and died under the American flag. Regular readers may recall Harlan. He died some years ago now, and I will place a small flag near his grave and lay flowers on it. He served in WWII, was blown up in North Africa, spent years in the hospital, and lived the rest of his life as a near hermit whose mind was embedded in the late 19th century. If you are interested, you can look back on articles from previous years about Harlan.
Harlan stands in for so many others, and this year remembering him brings to mind my dad. He also served in WWII as a supply officer on a destroyer in the Pacific. Never once did he tell a story about what he had experienced. Only once did I see him cry. I was a young adult, and we were together touring another destroyer, one he helped decommission shortly after the war; it was a sister ship to the one he served on.
He was enthusiastic about showing me around and explaining how everything worked, but somewhere along the way I ceased to exist, and he was back in another place at another time. Whatever it was that he was reliving, it brought tears streaming down his cheeks. A few minutes later he shook it off, was embarrassed at what had happened, and never talked about it. I have no idea where he was or what was happening in those few moments, but I know it was tragic, and soul shattering.
Memorial Day is about remembering. We remember those who died in war. We remember first those who died fighting under our flag. We also remember the non-combatant civilians who could not get out of the way of death. Sometimes we even remember the enemy dead with a sense of sorrow for them. Let us also remember those whose lives were torn to shreds and patched back together again in whatever way they could be patched.
Dad was one of the lucky ones. He came from a loving family, returned to a loving family, and was successful in his chosen career. To the very end, he enjoyed all that could be enjoyed, and was generous in giving whatever he could to make life good for others. Some others, like Harland, were so physically and psychologically damaged that whatever the good life was, it was not theirs to be had.
Dad is buried three thousand miles from where I live. I cannot place a flag or lay flowers on his grave, but this weekend, when I am honoring Harlan, I will remember Dad.