Remember, Remember Me

On holidays more than on other days the voices of my relatives come back to me saying, “Remember, remember me”.

Memorial Day holiday here in the US is a long weekend and national holiday. While it heralds the beginning of summer for some, it is a solemn remembrance of soldiers who served in war for many others.

The two relatives whose voices call out to me every Memorial Day are my uncle and my father–two entirely different casualties of foreign wars.

My father’s brother was a US soldier in Germany during World War II I am told, I never met him. He stepped on an explosive roadside bomb and was killed, just after Germany’s role in the war had ended. The family expected he would be coming home but received a very different kind of message.

Grandmother kept a very small wooden box with a ribbon and heart in it that she showed me every summer when I visited her and she retold the story, “We thought the war would be over and my son would be coming home.”

My father signed up when they got the news, he was nineteen, and by the time his training was over it was just in time to be walked through the barren fields of Hiroshima in Japan with other soldiers after the atomic bombing by the US. The radiation damaged his body profoundly. The psychological wounds from collecting the dead and feeding the blast-damaged survivors radiated later not only in his body, but throughout our small family. The stories, like his nightmares, were told and retold often and were impossible to forget. Now, when the rates of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among soldiers are better recognized, I understand that many families go through this with returning veterans like my father.

As a child, I became fascinated both by nonfiction stories of Holocaust survivors and the fiction of Japanese horror stories and film in an attempt to understand my father’s past. He often remarked on the peaceful nature of the surviving Japanese after the war and on their religion, Zen, which became a lifelong interest of mine. Steadily, I developed into a person who is anti-war, an advocate for peace within, peace without, peace among nations. The cost of war to society, to the psyche, and to families is too great to bear silently.

On the Memorial Day weekend I went to a less crowded section of Coney Island in New York with my daughters. I visited my old friend the ocean and great my older friend the sun. We ate, swam, and got sunburned. But before, after, and all the while my mind was on the family and what war did to us all.

Do you have a family remembrance of war?

Please leave a comment to share views.

12 thoughts on “Remember, Remember Me

  1. I come from a military family. My grandfather was at Normandy and my father served in Vietnam. trust me, you would not want to hear the stories I was told. Being raised in this environment made me strongly anti-war. When “world powers” support oppressive regimes to achieve their goals, new enemies are made. The U.S. support of China, Russia, and Turkey are just a few of the many examples.

    ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’ -Mahatma Gandhi

    Reply
    • Michael thank you for sharing your history here. The Gandhi quote is one of my favorites, and I’m more of a “turn the other cheek” or “walk on by” kind of person when it comes to revenge. But then as you have said, making the world a better place is the goal – and so we have to make a stand. Even if it is an internal decision, we have to do it and try to work toward the good.

      Reply
  2. As delhiboy wrote, I felt tears after reading the first couple of paragraphs. The history sounds different written down, more powerful in a sense, as your writing is powerful. On the other side of my family there is the conflict with my Abuela who fled Cuba when Fidel came into power. I’m sure if we reach back we all have connection to some violent historical action. I hope in the future to hear my children say they are aware of history, and unconnected to present violence. I hope to always be able to say I never met someone who died in a war. I hope I will remember to take a step back, and respect those who have died in a war at least one year out of every day. Thank you for the sobering post, and dose of realism.

    Reply
  3. My family has been touched by war as well. A close friend of the family died in Vietnam. My father was a submariner during the cold war and my grandfather fought in the south pacific during world war II. Some of the same lessons came to me as well, and in some areas, I came to the opposite conclusions. However, I am an advocate of peace within as well. And, as much as possible, peace without. I know that the sacrficies made by my loved ones and those I do not know are too great for me to idly ignore them or be so hard-hearted that dare forget. Remembrance is, perhaps, the most important way we hold on to the most essential parts of our humanity and I’m so glad and proud to have you as a friend. Well written.

    Reply
    • Stephan, thank you for sharing your experience and insights here about being touched by war. Peace within is where it starts, if we are ever to hope for a place where there is no need of war and no push toward war. Remembrance as holding on to humanity–I love this thought you wrote here. With loss of contact with our elders, comes a greater loss, of a source of our humanity.

      Reply
  4. My mother was born in 1939 in Switzerland a stone’s throw from the German border and remembers bomb sirens because of the great risk their town would be mistaken for Germany.

    Thank you so much for this post and sharing these memories. As I heard the newscaster say last night, “The real reason we’re celebrating Memorial Day,” I thought how sad we need that reminder. With Americans overworked and in gloomy times, we all need the joys of summer: beaches, parks, barbeques, etc., but we should at least take a few moments to reflect on the sacrifices of life made by families everywhere for freedom’s sake, including your own.

    Reply
    • OK. I’m back. And this time I read the whole thing. I salute the author and her family for sharing their personal pain with us. It takes great courage to blog about your inner, vulnerable feelings. And, I salute your Dad and Uncle who “gave their tomorrows for our freedoms today”.

      Reply
      • Delhiboy I am sorry as I did not intend to cause anyone to cry, it is just part of the inner me–all these experiences. So they are not sad to me any longer but are things I want to remember, and sometimes want to share. I don’t want to forget what my older generations went through, nor for my children to forget them. It is good to live in the moment, but with a knowledge of where the moment arises from and who helped us build toward the experience we enjoy as our life.

        Reply

COMMENT

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s