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?