My father, who was not in WWII, lay dieing in his hospice room. Next to him another man lie dying. I remember my father fondly of course. The years he spent raising me, the hours he spent cheering me, and the weeks he spent with my family before he died. The stranger that he shared his room with also left an impression.
His name was Norman. And to be honest I don't recall if it was his last or first name, but as we were in a V.A. I assumed it was his last. And we never properly introduced ourselves.
Norman and my father spent hours talking, while my father could still breath. My father told Norman and I the role the Navy really took at the Bay of Pigs, and never once acted as if it was a defeat. He told Norman about some of the pranks that the crew would play on one of the Destroyers my father was stationed on, the USS Charles S Sperry. Norman was a stoic man. Listened while my father prattled on, never interrupting and seemed generally happy to listen to my father.
Norman was Airborne, he was there on D-Day. He would whisper stories here and there to my father. It was a way for them to top one another. Neither talked about horrors, or honors for that matter. It was always about their friends. They would smile and laugh, you could hear their laughter down the quiet halls.
Norman survived Normandy, only to out live everyone in his family. His wife, his beloved, whose picture sat on the window sill smiled back at me, died years before. She was his first and only love. And sometimes you could feel that Norman was jealous of his wife, she had died before his two sons did. Their military photos had their own place of honor on the brightly lit window sill. A handsome family to say the least.
Norman never complained. But he was alone. I was his only visitor besides the occasional VFW volunteer, or candy striper. He would smile politely, but seemed annoyed that they would be there. I hoped that he never got annoyed with me, but I was dutifully there, next to my father every day. I walked the halls, greeting and smiling to the other hospice patients. All of whom had seen one war or another.
I never saw photos of grandchildren, so I assumed that he was indeed the last of his blood. No flowers came, or gifts for various holidays were visible at the time of my visits. Norman was all alone. Most of the men in the VA were alone. Rarely did I run into another visitor. I held all the boys attention, smoking and talking out front, the boys were happy to tell me their stories, and the stories of their friends that died years upon years before. The glistening wet of their fondness often appeared in their eyes. But not Norman's, as I said, he was stoic about his death, and the fondness of fallen comrades.
Norman had the capacity to complain, but he never used it in front of me. It was how they were raised. You take your lot in life, and make the best of it. A lesson we should all take from them.
Norman died shortly after my father, no one sat vigil at his bedside. Something that I would later feel guilt about. Even though Norman would have never complained about it. He was and still in my thoughts.
We remember these soldiers on this day. But for how long? Will there come a point that we are so blase about war, and about the boys we send. Will we rewrite chapters of history to make them seem like they were the bad guys? Will we apologize for their actions? Or will we take time now to meet the boys that are left with us, not just the ones alone, but the ones with a room full of family? Will we seek out our beloved boys to thank them, to tell them that they are our hero's? Will we sit quietly and allow them to tell us about their lives, their friends, their loves? Will we promise them face to face that we will not forget them nor their friends that they hold so dear?
I silently promised Norman, I would never forget him.