Pass the cotton fields, pass the magnolia groves, pass the estuary, you can smell Wisterias in bloom when the south wind blows in the spring. If you stand long enough in reverence, a mosquito buzzing in your ear might just interrupt your moment of reflection in the summer time heat but above all, a feeling of longing of ‘just one more time” here on section 3 row 67 site 29. Pass the shopping centers; pass the neighborhoods, off the interstate: the American flag wave over plot 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36 …
I remember holding my father’s hand when he was gravely ill. His hands were full of calluses and fingernails embedded with motor grease. Wear and tear from years of putting food on the table for the family. I read the lines on his hand like a fortune teller looking for stories about his life. If he held a rifle during the post World War II, I couldn’t find a sign of it on his palm. The lines intersected and I read nothing. He was dying and I barely knew him. He couldn’t speak anymore. Stroke got the best of him. So I held his hand against my cheek rough like a sandpaper, I thought “Just one more time” for a story like when he was a boy and his best friend was a water buffalo, or how about that story when he was stationed in Guam looking for the ‘enemy’. I wasn’t paying attention when he told me the first time.
So there in section 3 row 67 site 29. He is amongst company: A 21 year old from Operation Desert Storm, an 80 year old from the Korean War, “Stew” who fought in Afghanistan, John from the Vietnam War, a lieutenant from World War I and his wife, an ‘unknown’ from Iraq war. My father lies amongst soldiers surrounded by freshly cut carnations and teddy bears. Plastic pumpkins in the fall and evergreens in the winter, miniature American flag on Independence Day and pillow hearts on Valentine’s Day. Gone but not forgotten. Forever love and perpetually miss these soldiers and my father.
On my last visit, I saw a mother and her toddler. She brushed the headstone while her toddler adorns it with acorns. The act was so intimate I felt like I didn’t belong and as I was leaving the grounds, Taps softly played. Tears were shed for another soldier coming home.