Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Whispers of Our Fathers
I was born in 1955. I grew up in a time of this country when Americans made great strides and suffered numerous setbacks: from comic book space flight to landing astronauts on the moon, the civil rights movement, the birth and death of great leaders. Three channels on a black and white television was a blessing. Everyone stood and knew what to do with their hats and right hand when the National Anthem was played. As we stood and stared at the American flag, we would at times get goose bumps as it was gently “aroused” by the wind. It always amazed me that sometimes at just the right moment, this beautiful symbol was guided into its inspiring ballet by unseen hands and the breath of a thousand unheard voices.
My father, Wilbur, passed away on a sunny, cool day in September of 1998. Like most young men of his generation, he served his country in a war that had definition, support, and an understanding of the American people. They knew of the high cost should the war be lost. Our symbol, our heart of the nation, our flag would never enjoy the freedom to fly above its own soil without retribution.
My father loved the flag. Year after year he would march in our small town Memorial Day parade, proudly carrying the red, white and blue. He looked sharp and determined wearing the World War II uniform of an Army Staff Sergeant. He was a proper choice as bearer of the flag.
The day of my father’s burial was a busy day. Details, preparations, laughter and tears. I found myself at the funeral home asking to inspect the hearse my father would be carried in. It seemed silly even then but you would have had to have known my father to understand. I also made a request on behalf of our family. I requested that the funeral procession take a slightly different route to the cemetery than normal. A route that would take my dad past the house that he built with his own two hands after the war. A house that gave his family the protection, warmth and a place we could all call home.
The American flag had been hung on its support over the front door. The yard had been prepared for one final inspection. The air was still but clear. The hearse slowly approached my family home and the thoughtful driver paused for a few moments. The flag, which had hung motionless all day suddenly and respectfully, began to beckon my father to join the thousands of his generation who had gone before. Could it have been just a sudden breeze that unfurled the flag or was it the unseen hands, breath and whispers of our fathers?
For those of you who are of my generation, it should be easy to look at that flag and see the faces that surround it as well as hear the whispers. They are from our fathers and they are asking us all to help younger generations to hear, see and understand them as well.
This story was originally published in the Western News in 2005.