For the fallen

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581,016.

This number represents the total of American soldiers who have died in combat in all U.S. Wars. It does not include hundreds of thousands of other soldiers who died as a result of disease or accident. (The American Civil War, alone, is responsible for over 224,000 more deaths when you factor this in.)

It does include James Wesley Pierce.

James Wesley Pierce, Wes to his family and friends, was the third of five children born to James and Myrtle Pierce. Intelligent and handsome, with red hair and freckles, Wes was a Christian, an Eagle Scout known for always telling the truth. He was particularly close to his older sister, Florence, who happens to be my paternal grandmother.

My great uncle Wes was a navigator on a B-29 Superfortress long range bomber in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. His plane was shot down over Japan in July of 1945, just two weeks before President Truman ordered the bombing of Hiroshima, which, coupled with the bombing of the city of Nagasaki three days later, effectively ended the Second World War. His remains, and the remains of his entire crew, are buried in a St. Joseph, Missouri military cemetery in a container the size of a cigar box.

I confess I have no idea what it’s like. With apologies to the fictitious Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, I never served in an infantry unit, never served in a forward area, never put my life in another man’s hand and asked him to put his life in mine. Early in college, the Persian Gulf crisis was intensifying. We all wondered what it would mean for us. Would we be called upon to serve through the draft? I remember thinking at the time if it came to it, I would be honored and willing and ready to serve my country. But it didn’t happen in 1991 like it did in the 1940′s. I can’t comprehend what it must have been like for a generation of parents who were facing the reality that a percentage of their children would be sacrificed on the altar of freedom and that was just the way it was and there was nothing they could do but hope and pray and cry. But my great Uncle Wes understood. And so did his parents. And my grandmother.

I’m incredibly grateful.

My great uncle had a life and dreams and plans. He had a girl. He was waiting until after the war was over to get serious. He never got the chance. His life and dreams and plans and future went down over the Pacific Ocean in 1945. The clearest expression of love is sacrifice. And because of my great uncle’s (and so many others) love for his country and family, and his willingness to lay down his life for what he believes, I am able to live in a country where I’m free. Free to have a life and dreams and plans. Free to have a girl. And to get serious with that girl.

So I got serious with a girl. And in time that girl and I had a son.

His name is Jonah Wesley. We named him after my father.

My father’s name is Jonathan Wesley. He’s named after his Uncle Wes.

I have many hopes and prayers for my son. Some I can articulate and some are just inexpressible groans in my soul. But one of my hopes is for him to learn and understand the truth that love and sacrifice are inexorably linked. That he would be generous and forgiving and unselfish in his relationships with family, friends, teammates. That he would put aside his own comfort to bring comfort to others. That his love would lead him to give up certain luxuries so others might flourish. I hope he learns from my father, who once gave up the company he built with his own blood, sweat, and brilliance to provide a better life for his children. And I hope he learns from his Great Great Uncle Wes, who knew sometimes there are things – truths, values, principles, ideals – worth giving your life for. I hope he honors the legacy of his name.

And I hope he never has to die for his country. But if someday evil men rise up again and threaten the very freedoms and values we hold most dear, I hope that he will be willing to honorably and courageously do so.

Just like my Great Uncle Wes.

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Front seat

My son sits in the front seat now.

He’s tall and thin and man-childish. My floorboard is high and he’s all-legs so his knees stick up into the air, seemingly at eye level, interfering with my operation of the stick shift, making me constantly wonder who this tall person sitting next to me is, and how in the hell he got to be so big so fast.

Of course, it wasn’t fast at all. Not really.

It’s all very frog-in-the-kettle, watching your children grow up. It happens so gradually, you’re almost unaware of it.

They’re born and in a couple of days or less you put them in the car for the first time, so careful with everything, making sure all of the straps are snug and in the proper place, clicking the seat in place, wiggling it a few times to make sure it’s not going anywhere, so fragile they are. And for a while, that’s where they ride, in this mini-fortress, facing away from the front seat so when you look in the mirror you cannot get a good look at them. You just trust the seat is doing it’s job. They’re probably sleeping anyway, or sucking on a pacifier, or gurgling baby language at the ceiling.

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Friday

Good Friday

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

When I was in high school, in the dead of another Atlanta winter (I know, I know, Atlanta winters are mild, but I had moved from South Florida when I was fifteen. Anything below 50 was frigid), I prayed it would snow so I could miss a day of school.

It didn’t happen very often.

I was always disappointed when the weatherman would call for snow at night, only to wake up in the morning and the ground was not white, just the color of sleeping grass and faded pine straw. I had to go to school. It was devastating (not really, but it felt like it).

What I realized over time was what seemed devastating in the moment actually led to something amazing. It’s called the “Snow Day.” A day in the warmth of spring which would have been a normal day of school, but because it had not snowed, it became a holiday. I didn’t have to wake up early, didn’t have to bundle up to go outside, didn’t have to worry about studying or practicing sports. It was a true day off. Better than Saturday, even, because it was unexpected and there were no other commitments.

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