Memorial Day is past now. A day that grew from the Civil War as a means of remembering those who gave their lives in the armed forces for this country, will always be celebrated in the U.S. as a way to show appreciation for those who provided the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
As a young person, I had heard from relatives about other kin who had died in battle during World War II. The closest of those would have been a great uncle – an uncle to my mother – whom I did not remember.
But I also had a close uncle who had survived not only capture as a first lieutenant at the Battle of the Bulge, but the war itself.
By the time I started hunting, which was strictly small game, that particular uncle was a regular member of our small hunting group.
He spoke much about hunting whenever we were afield, and he and my father always seemed to find humor in the many episodes that unfolded on any given Saturday during the season, the only day he hunted with us. Those long-ago moments stay with me now, as some of the best times of my youth.
Conversely, he spoke little of war, at least to me. He had mentioned his capture, and some of the horrors of that experience, but he never spoke of men killing men, nor even of the battles.
Looking back, I’ve come to realize that he was excellent at preaching safety. He also seemed shrewd and crafty at knowing good cover for the wild pheasants we hunted, and was always quick to point me to a spot that would often provide a good shot at a circling rabbit our beagles were in the process of chasing.
Yet, he was private about the war. There was however, one exception. He did say – enough times that it has never left my thinking – that he knew many, many men who would have loved to stand in the fields and woods as he then stood, and be hunting with family, but now lay buried in foreign soil and water. To them, he said, he owed much.
He often mentioned that he privately gave thanks and remembrance to those comrades by being where he was and teaching young people like myself to hunt. He felt he was lucky to live and was so grateful for those willing to sacrifice.
War is terrible – any war. But to rage against the dreadfulness it is, and not remember and thank those who died, would be a great disservice to them.
Like my uncle did, I thank all the fallen, and honor those brave people by telling the young I now hunt alongside how lucky they are to live where they live, and understand and acknowledge what was given to ensure their freedoms.