TCS Daily

Memorial Flags

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - May 27, 2005 12:00 AM

Another Memorial Day.

Open the swimming pool. Get enough hotdogs and buns. Pack the car.

Judges and state representatives and various minor officials root around in their files for material for the speech up at the cemetery.

Hope it doesn't rain.

The high school band will be there. Some of the seniors might not show up so the ranks will be a little thin.

Veterans color guard. Paunches and puttees. And always that one Vietnam vet with the scraggly gray hair and granny sunglasses.

Hope somebody comes.

The crowd was sure small last year.

Year before, too, come to think of it.

Some of the ladies from the auxiliary were up the other day, putting little flags on the graves.

You know, if you sweep your eyes across that hillside there are quite a few flags fluttering up there in the breeze. Quite a few.

Couple of them on fresh graves, too. That young sergeant whose Humvee got blown up over in Iraq. Worked in the lumber yard. Nice guy.

That other one, over there, with the fresh-turned earth and the withered flower baskets around it. That was Iraq, too. Helicopter crash. He had two kids.

You walk among those graves and you recognize the old family names from around here.

And some of those stones marked with little flags have other names on them - Guadalcanal. St. Lo. Coral Sea. Chosin Reservoir. Danang. Baghdad.

Some died in those places. Others died at home, in their beds, old men who had learned a new geography. And never forgot it.

Some died heroes, with posthumous medals to prove it. Some just happened to be in the wrong square foot of snowy forest or sand-blown desert. For some there was not a whiff of glory - just an overturned truck, a mistake during maneuvers, appendicitis in a slit trench too far from help.

Others got back home, worked in a factory, played shuffleboard at the VFW, marched gamely in a few parades, and finally succumbed to diabetes or cancer in a Veterans Hospital.

The little flags are very democratic. No differentiation, no distinction. They flutter in the sunlight over the heroes and the hapless. But that's the point. They all served. They all gave -- freely, fearfully, grudgingly -- years of their lives, precious years that could never be regained, never really made up for.

And there are so many flags out there among those stones.

So many.

They may have to play a recording of "Taps" this year. Hard to find a bugler.

Hope somebody comes.

The crowd was so small last year.


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