My father was a survivor of Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway. He served his country as a civilian aeronautical engineer during Operations Red Wing and Hardtack. The plaque that memorializes him is a thousand miles away in the Missouri Ozarks. I can’t take him flowers for Veteran’s Day, but since both my husband and I have the day off from work and like to do something meaningful to honor those who have served (so did my husband in peace time) we decided we would attend the ceremony at Tahoma National Cemetery in Covington, WA where the father and brother of my best friend are buried. Our families have known each other since we were very little girls and I knew she could not attend herself as she lives and works in Oregon. She did not get the day off.
Gail’s dad was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during WWII, flying a Liberator over Germany. He went on to be a Boeing Test pilot and carried his love of flying into retirement by building his own airplane. Both of his sons became pilots, one for the Air Force and one for the Army. The younger son, Neal, whom we took flowers, did two tours in Vietnam as a chopper pilot. His sudden death this Spring was the latest loss in a string of them for the family. All are buried at Tahoma.
I hate the fact that commercial enterprises turn Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day into sale days meant to line their pockets. I sent Amazon a nasty email at Memorial Day because of that and emailed the History Channel complaining because they turned Memorial Weekend into a Monster Quest marathon. Having said that, I was disappointed to find that Safeway had not made up any very patriotic looking bouquets and had them cobble together a bouquet of red carnations and one of baby’s breath into two, which the floral department clerk tied with red and white ribbon. It would have to do.
My girlfriend had suggested that I wear red, white and blue for the occasion which proved a problem since nearly everything in my closet is purple. I dug out my red jumper, generally reserved for Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and a white blouse. Carefully I pinned the WWII Sweetheart pin my mother wore onto my red sweater. No matter that they divorced when I was 18. For me it symbolizes my love and honor for my father.
Because it had been extremely rainy all week I asked my daughter-in-law to help me find my good umbrella. The sun was out, but I wanted to ensure that it would stay out. It turned out that it was a wonderful day for a drive and to wander around Tahoma National Cemetery. With my girlfriends directions we found first her father’s grave and then her brothers. People are buried in the order they arrive at Tahoma. Spouses can be buried together, but there are no “family plots.” After we had placed our flowers and taken pictures we walked to the flag area where there were formal ceremonies going on. When a cloud obscured the sun and the ceremonies were winding down we moved toward the car.
On our way out of the cemetery we stopped and paid our respects to Dave’s friend from the FAA, Chris Beal. Chris emigrated from England right out of school and joined the U.S. Army. He went to Vietnam because he wanted to really feel like he was giving to his new home country. He became a citizen and stayed in the Army to retirement. After the military he went to work for the FAA from which he also retired before his death in 2007.
Back in Tacoma we went out for a late lunch in Old Towne. The ladies went to the Hawthorn Tearoom and the fellas across the street to the Spar for fish and chips. Our timing was perfect in that we all finished at the same time and the weather was deteriorating by the time we got in the car to head home to Gig Harbor. It was satisfying to have participated in the ritual of taking flowers to soldiers and to remember my father, even if he is buried so far away. I still have some of my father’s ashes that I’d intended to take to Pearl Harbor, but am now thinking of asking the VA if we can put them at Tahoma. Then his family would have someplace closer at hand to go for Veteran’s Days.