Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

I went to the National Cemetery at Fort Snelling today. My father and mother and my grandfather and grandmother are buried there. I haven’t been there for years, but somehow decided that a trip today was important.

The cemetery is much larger than it was when my Dad died in 1969. He was buried near the fence on that cold day in March. I remember thinking that he said he wanted to buried near the fence so he could see the cars go by. 40 years of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq have filled the cemetery and moved the fences. But I’m sure that Dad can still see the cars go by and the airplanes from adjacent MSP fly over. Oh my there are a lot of graves. Battalions of white markers all glistening in the sun. I put some flowers from my garden on my parents’ graves and some more on the graves of Henry, a veteran of WWI, on his wife Grace, my maternal grandparents. I miss them all, even Henry who died 17 years before I was born.

I then went to an older part of the cemetery. I found the grave of my Dad’s boyhood best friend Kenny Miller. Kenny was killed when his bomber was shot down over Holland in 1944. He was originally buried in a Dutch cemetery, then moved to the American military cemetery in Holland before his body was repatriated at the request of his mother in 1947.

Kenny was my Dad’s best friend. They grew up together in the rough parts of St. Paul. They dropped out of school together and got in trouble together. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor they enlisted in the Army on December 8, 1941, together. My Dad went to the Far East, serving in China, Burma and India. Kenny went to Europe, serving in the Eighth Air Force’s bombing of Germany. My Dad came home in 1945, Kenny did not.

My Dad seldom talked about Kenny or World War II or growing up during the Depression. Years after he died, my Mother mentioned that my Dad would always go to Fort Snelling around Memorial Day to put some flowers on Kenny’s grave. He would cut some peonies from the plants in our yard and wish God bless to his long gone best friend.

Kenny has become a symbol of the Greatest Generation in my mind. He’s the poor kid, dealt a crappy hand in life, who volunteered to defend his America. He was my father and a million other boys of the Depression who still rose to give their all for their country. Most made it back home, some didn’t. Kenny represents those who didn’t. He doesn’t have any kids to remember him. He doesn’t have anyone to honor him specifically.

Today I became Kenny’s surrogate kid. I am sure that my Dad would be willing to share. I found Kenny’s grave. I put some peonies from my yard next to the tombstone. I said a little prayer of thanks to Kenny and all the rest who gave all to make my America.
Mr. Flannery


Margo said...

I have shed more tears on this memorial day than ever before. I think it is important to bring attention to specific sacrifices. It's easy to say thanks to ALL, but to hear the story of one in particular, makes it real. Thank you for sharing, and for taking the time to bring him flowers.

Karen L said...

Thank you for sharing.

AngelMc said...

Thank you for putting flowers on Kenny's grave.