(for the On Display
The assignment is to write about the word "veteran."
I'm not sure this exactly qualifies, but it's what came to mind...
12 November 2002
was very still at the cemetery. The only noise came from the flags flapping in the breeze.
The roadway was lined with American flags, and scattered around the grounds were smaller
flags, standing proudly on the graves of those who had served in the military.
Today is Veteran's Day and the cemetary was paying its respects to those who fought to
keep this country free.
Personal involvement with war passed me by, at least so far. My father was 4F and
unable to serve during World War II, our children were too young to be drafted and sent to
Vietnam, and now they're too old to be sent to the Middle East. For all of these
things I am selfishly very grateful.
When I visited the Vietnam memorial in D.C., there is only one name on there on that
huge wall that I know (and I can't even remember the name now). He was a kid we knew very
slightly from our days at UC Berkeley. I can't even picture him. But he was one of the
first to die.
I have very, very vague memories of being a kid on vacation somewhere with family
friends, and someone mentioning that the husband had fought in the war, but would never
talk about it.
There was only once when the reality and the effects of war became very personal. It
was in a conversation with my uncle, Roger Scott, who died several years ago.
My mother is 7th in a family of 10 kids (she's also the last survivor, except for her
younger sister who is, unfortunately, in that no-return decline of Alzheimers). There were
7 girls and 3 boys. It was a tight-knit family, but because of my father's rotten temper
and his dislike of the family, we never spent a lot of time with them, and so I missed out
on feeling like part of this huge extended family. Of my 32 cousins, there are only three
that I know well enough to consider friends.
So I did not grow up with a relationship with many of my mother's siblings. There were
3 aunts that we saw regularly, and I did get to know them, but the rest of them were only
names and faces, never personalities. I can't remember ever actually having a conversation
with any of them...at least not one that lasted more than a sentence or two
Until that night in Oregon.
My mother and her husband built a house in Shady Cove, Oregon and her brother Roger
("Scotty") and his wife built a house on the adjoining lot. Scotty and my
mother's husband became best friends and they spent a lot of time together.
On this particular weekend, I was there visiting and the plan was for us all to go to a
restaurant for dinner. "All" included some of the friends from the Shady Cove
area whom I'd never met, so it as a long table with a lot of people, and most of them
people I didn't know very well, including my own relatives, and so I was not exactly
Scotty and I ended up at one end of the table, sitting across from each other. I really
don't know how it started--perhaps his wife asked him to tell me about his war
experiences--but somehow he just began talking...and talking...and talking. I was taking
mental notes like crazy, trying to remember the stories he told.
He had been captured by the Germans and spent several months in a prisoner of war camp.
He talked about forced marches, and the guard who befriended him. He talked about an egg
that he managed to get, something unheard of, and how he carried it around with him until
he could finally cook it.
I've tried to find the transcript that I wrote from memory after the dinner, but I
can't lay my hands on it right at this very minute. But the actual experiences aren't as
precious to me as the interaction between Scotty and myself. There was an incredible bond
that lasted throughout the dinner. I was an adult and this was the first time in my life
that the two of us had exchanged more than a "hello."
The next day, as I went into Scotty's house, I felt that things had finally
changed between us, that having shared his memories of the war, there would somehow be
this bond that had formed. But it was as it always had been, as if the previous
night had not happened at all.
I don't know that I ever saw him again. He was diagnosed with cancer not long
after that evening and it spread rapidly.
But I will always remember with great fondness the stories of his experiences that my
uncle shared with me.