|Photo courtesy Allen Wheatley|
One sweeping glance at the cemetery during our visit to the area surrounding Bastogne, Belgium, was enough to demonstrate the devastating impact of the battles there at the close of World War II.
Visiting any cemetery brings a sense of melancholy to me, regardless of the reason for being there. But the sight of row upon uniform row of white markers can be overwhelming.
The first time I personally knew anyone so close to a World War II veteran was when I got to know my husband’s family. Frank, Chris’s dad, was buried in the National cemetery in Santa Fe. No one in the family lives in New Mexico anymore, but we took the time to drive back there a few years ago, to pay our respects and try to understand more of this man’s life. Standing next to his grave marker, Chris pointed out significant details and reminisced, while I learned about a man I had never met.
He was an Air Force man, I learned. I had seen pictures of him in uniform, news clipping about his post-war service in England, and other memorabilia. But I never knew the details of the beginning of his military service.
Until this weekend. There is something about the Memorial Day holiday that calls me to dig into those historical details.
So, the other night, when Chris came home from work, he pulled out a dusty file that hadn’t been touched in probably twenty years. Releasing the seals and opening it carefully, he pulled out a picture of a ship.
Ship? But Frank was Air Force, right?
I know nothing about military information. But at least I could detect a discrepancy here. If nothing else, I can be a quick study.
On the side of the ship, the photo clearly displayed a number: “707.” It looked like someone had taken a white marker and written on the photo, I thought. Chris had to explain that the item “written” on was actually the ship, itself.
Ah, the wonders of the internet. Chris Googled the ship’s full, official designation, LCI(L) 707—and there it was, with a big “707” painted so that no one could mistake its identity.
There was more. Thanks to ancestry.com, I was able to find a muster roll of the crew as of the third quarter of 1944. Included among the names was that of the Pharmacist’s Mate, Second Class—Chris’s dad.
I took a look at all the other names. Was there anyone else hoping to stumble upon this bureaucratic document—hoping to find traces of a relative? What about the families of George Alfano? Or Max Farquer? Or Bob Rexroad? Did any of them have that hunger to find something tangible about their father’s past? Was there another student yearning to reach out and touch a great-grandfather?
The rush of life-right-now comes at us with so much force that it blows away those ethereal memories of people no longer with us. Perhaps it’s just a lingering wistfulness reaching out from our subconscious that prompts us to go back and ask more questions about the past. Maybe that is what’s speaking to me from those rows of stark white markers.
The plaintive cry: “Remember me!”