My friend Susan buried her father John last week. It seems fitting to share a memory about John because tomorrow is Memorial Day.
Through the Brookshire’s Heroes Flight program, it was my privilege several years ago to participate in one of their trips as the companion of my grandfather Dr. O.L. “Buddy” Ferrell. It was an experience of a lifetime to watch him and other World War II veterans, take in the most vivid symbols of the republic from the Capitol building to the World War II memorial made just for them.
Susan’s dad John was on that trip. The night program included a dinner with a time for the veterans to speak on anything they wished. When it was John’s turn he stood, a little bent at the waist, with the microphone in his hand and shared his story.
John was one of those people who you could say was a serial gentleman. His gentle manner had an essence of southern drawl not quite as loud but surely as recognizable as Foghorn Leghorn. Kind of like a glass of iced tea with a sprig of mint, if you get my drift.
In all the times we shared encounters, there was not a single time John said anything but kind words. He was a pleasure to be around.
Back to John’s story. He told of being deployed to the Philippines just after the notorious Bataan Death March. He recalled vividly the plight of those who survived and related in his gentle manner without a shred of bitterness, “After seeing what our enemies had done to those boys, to this day I have never been able to bring myself to purchase a Japanese car.”
John’s statement was a tribute to his brothers in the field. It was an affirmation of loyalty rather than hostility. A way to remember.
The icons of war are manifested in so many different ways. Memorials in places, such as Washington, take on a different meaning with every successive encounter. Perhaps it is seeing them from the point of view of losing a loved one, a child, a spouse. Through the lens of time, maybe we see more of our frailty in the face of the bravery of those who purchased our freedom.
On each trip to D.C., my memories will include all those men who told their stories that evening. And if it is my good fortune to take my grandchildren there someday, we will talk about the memorials, remembrance, sacrifice and those valiant men who, as one in the party said, saved the world.
Rest in peace John Wilson. You are and will be remembered.