Honoring the Fallen – Leah St. James

IMG_0973aToday is Memorial Day, and I can’t bring myself to write about my column topic (health and fitness)—not in the face of the countless people across the country who are mourning loved ones lost to war.

I’m fortunate. I’ve never lost anyone close to me in combat, or serving the armed forces or other “first responder” professions. So I can only imagine the pain a mother or father, sister or brother – or any loved one – feels when learning such awful news. I can only tell those of you who do know firsthand that I mourn with you in my own way, and I pray for your peace of mind, if not now, then some day.

I live in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, the most highly militarized area of the country. We’re home to Langley Air Force Base and Fort Eustis (together Joint Base Langley-Eustis), Quarter Deck (Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story), Naval Air Station Oceana and big daddy  Naval Station Norfolk which supports operational readiness for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

It was strange to me at first to see so many people walking around in fatigues and uniform.  Half the people on my block are in one of the armed forces. At first I tried thanking them all for their service, but after a while I stopped.  Not because I didn’t want to thank them, but because they seemed embarrassed by my words. I think I made them uncomfortable. They thanked me, of course, but then scurried off, as if to get away from the crazy lady. Then I realized to them it’s just their job. To me, they’re all heroes. They volunteered to go into the service, knowing the world is a hotbed of craziness, knowing they might be called to fight.

A word about that, for a moment. I grew up in the Vietnam era. Young men not much older than I was at the time were shipped halfway around the world (either though enlistment or draft) to fight an enemy none of us seemed to understand. Of course women served too, although not in combat roles at that time.

I vividly remember the nightly newscasts through my middle school and high school years listing that day’s casualties…hundreds of young men, every day, who would never again see their homes or families.

I still cry every time I hear Glenn Campbell’s “Galveston” or the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier.”

 

Fast forward about 15 years and I had a son of my own, and even through my joy, I couldn’t help that niggling worry that some day he’d be compelled to go to war. (It sounds irrational and probably was, but I guess that’s how profound the Vietnam experience was for me.)

For whatever reason, he was fascinated by the military early on.  Every book he borrowed from the library was about tanks or fighter jets or military professions.  Eventually other interests crept in—sports and history. Then we started making the rounds of colleges. We wound up at one large state university, in a giant basketball arena where all the various groups had set up information tables. We wandered apart, and when I was ready to go, I started looking over the heads to find my son. (He was 6’4” back then…I think he’s even taller now.)  When I found him, my heart stuttered a bit. He was at the U.S. Army recruiting table.

I eased myself into the conversation he was having with the recruiter. “Excuse me, what are you telling my son?” (Yeah, real easy.) The recruiter went on to explain all the benefits of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. My son was listening intently—mostly to the part about funds for education. I said, “All that’s true and it’s great, but what about that whole threat of war thing?” He laughed and shook his head. “Everybody knows we don’t go to war these days.”

That was the spring of 2001. Five months later, four hijacked airliners dive-bombed our cities, and we were set on a path of a long, hard war that still plagues us.

I think about that recruiter from time to time, wondering how many young men and women he convinced to sign up with his rationalization who then found themselves in conflict. I think about the many who rushed to volunteer after 9/11. And I think about their mothers, fathers, friends and loved ones who had to face the worry I never had to face.

Too often our national holidays are turned into nothing more than sales bonanzas. I don’t understand how, or why, that happened, but I also can’t bring myself to buy into that, figuratively or literally. Especially not today.

Today I honor those who have served over the many decades since this country was founded. I honor their families for supporting them. More especially, I honor those who have sacrificed their lives, and their families and friends who grieve them. “Thank you” hardly seems enough.

If you’re looking for a more tangible way to help, check out military.com. Here you’ll find suggestions from sending cards and letters to active duty personnel, to help with recovery for those who have returned from war.

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To read myLeah short story about a mom who lost a child to war (“Letter from Christine”), go here.

This is my final post for Tea & Strumpets (and the last week for this blog). Don’t worry, though. You can check up on us at our Facebook page.

To keep track of how I’m doing on my latest quest for health and fitness, visit the blog on my website.

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Honoring the Fallen – Leah St. James

  1. Great post, Leah. I find it hard to thank the soldiers, too, not because I don’t want to or I’m not grateful, but because it feels like an intrusion into their thoughts and days. It’s hard to find the right moment for me. But the cost is so high and I’m grateful for their service. 🙂

  2. My father served in WWII, my boyfriends ended up in Vietnam, my son was swept up in Desert Storm driving a Bradley (and I learned how to pray for real), so I have mixed feelings about patriotism in general, and Memorial Day as well. If my son hadn’t come home to me, I’m sure this day would be no comfort.

  3. What a heartfelt post, Leah. While my son is a bit older than yours, I had the same feelings. While I like sales as well as the next person, it seems disrespectful to connect them with this day of remembrance.

  4. The place I most often see people in uniform is the airport. I agree that it doesn’t seem quite right to intrude on them there.

    I’m sorry this is your last blog post here. I’ve enjoyed reading them!

    • Hi, Monti – so sorry for my delay in responding! Thank you for stopping by to read and share your thoughts. We’ll each be blogging on our own sites at least to some degree. I plan to post periodic updates to my health/fitness efforts on my website. We appreciate your kind words.

  5. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Leah. I have been hesitant to say anything to men and women in uniform for fear of intruding on them, but I always mentally thank and wish them safety in their service. And thank you so much for what you’ve done in support of this blog!

    • Hi, Denise. That’s what I do, too, and if I get an opportunity to give a verbal thanks that’s not too awkward, I do. It’s been fun blogging with everyone. Thank YOU for keeping the Facebook page going. 🙂

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