By Trudy Wischemann
In my Aunt Hazel’s house, there was a photo of a man we never knew. It was a beautiful black and white studio portrait, elegantly framed, and it sat prominently on the top of the radio cabinet, centered and flanked by candles on each side that were never burned. The man wore flyer’s clothes and a leather helmet snug on his head, the chin straps loose but ready, a willing smile on his face. Over and over we asked “Aunt Hazel, who’s that?” and she would reply “That’s Roy, your Uncle Scoop’s little brother.” Sometimes she got teary, because he was killed early in the war. She made sure he was never forgotten, even by people who never knew him. Roy was part of our family, and we were proud.
I spent the weekend watching movies and documentaries about war – the people, places and things we’ve fought over for the past century, and those who died in the conflicts. It felt like going home, because that’s what we watched primarily on television as I was growing up, just as the television screen at home was beginning to replace the movie screens in theaters. War.
As children, we watched the remaking of the Second World War for the most part, cheering for the Americans. I could whistle the theme from “Bridge Over the River Kwai” early on, though it was always hard to hit the high notes. Then, as I moved into my middle teens, the television brought us a different war: the news on the war in Viet Nam. That war, sometimes called a “conflict” in keeping with its legal status, brought us the war in our streets at home as protests against the useless waste of life and resources in Southeast Asia brought people my age out of our Tube-conditioned mindsets abruptly.
I was slow to catch on that this was a death-and-life matter, despite my early training on the subject. Of course, I was not subject to the draft. But my male classmates were, then my brother, and the conflict expanded from something we watched to enormous internal conflict waged in hearts and minds. As our hearts and minds shifted under the weight of these two wars, the news started bringing us photographs of those who weren’t coming home. My brother’s face was added to the files, and now my mother’s home prominently displays a beautifully framed color photograph of him in his Army uniform. But he is not smiling. Every time I look at it, I see fear draining the color from his face and feel dead remorse for not catching on sooner.
I’ve had the good fortune to become familiar with the Fresno VA Hospital over the years, including several trips in recent weeks to escort my veteran sweetheart through knee surgery. The respect given the clients and their families in that place is worth observing, because it changes the environment drastically as compared with normal hospitals and clinics. Veterans are constantly reminded of the service they gave to the country and of the conflicts – the wars – we waged to give them that status. The price many paid in physical disabilities is in full view, the need to respect them for those and other prices they paid is repeated over and over. I feel privileged to be among those who returned home, regardless of their condition.
Honoring the living might be the best way to honor those who died. I don’t know, but this Memorial Day I celebrated the loss of the glorification of war that I was raised with, and its replacement with something more closely approximating the truth.
Trudy Wischemann is a Gold-Star Sister who writes. You can send her your Memorial Day thoughts c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.