Ryan Taylor: Cowboy Logic 6-9-12
June 11, 2012
I was honored to give the Memorial Day address in West Fargo, N.D., last week at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Arthur W. Jones Post 7564. It was a day of remembrance and gratitude, and the hall was filled with veterans, families and citizens ranging in age from young children to our greatest generation.
I’ve always found a lot of meaning in the Memorial Day programs I’ve attended in towns both large and small across North Dakota. Whenever I speak at one, I have to admit to the listeners that I’m humbled by the invitation to speak because I’m not actually a veteran myself, but I was raised by and around a lot of humble veterans in my family.
They were part of what I call my family fortune. Our family fortune didn’t lie in stocks and bonds or pieces of gold and silver, it was a fortune of people and personalities who would gather around the kitchen table to recount stories, not coins.
I always felt particularly fortunate because I was one of the very few in my age group who was raised by a father who was a combat veteran of World War II. The secret to that circumstance was only that Dad waited until he was 37 to marry and was 48-years-old when I was born. So while some of my generation might have had a grandfather who served in WWII, I had a father who was in the Philippines, New Guinea and the Japanese occupation.
I also had a bunch of uncles who served and fought in that war. Of the six uncles I had on my mother’s side of the family, five of them were a part of the war. Everyone who could serve, did serve. Their service ranged from North Africa, Italy, the Battle of the Bulge, the Aleutian Islands Campaign, the Pacific Theatre, the Merchant Marines and the Norwegian Resistance Army.
Some of their areas of service are not so well known. The Aleutian Islands of the Alaska Territory actually had foreign occupiers on American soil. The Merchant Marines were in charge of supplying the war effort and had the highest percentage of war related deaths of any branch of service. One in 26 mariners aboard ships died in the line of duty. The Norwegian Resistance was the service of a teenaged Norwegian who would later marry my aunt when he came to America. The little known Norwegian Resistance was a story of underground guerilla fighting and sabotage, and deserves the credit for crippling Germany’s nuclear program as Axis and Ally raced to build the first atomic weapon.
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I learned a lot when these uncles and veterans gathered around our kitchen table and talked of the Depression, the war, the homecoming and the lives they led. Like a lot of veterans, they were often most content in silence of what they had seen and experienced half a world away from their farms, ranches and homes.
But you would catch the occasional reminiscence of some humor or camaraderie they shared with fellow soldiers in their worldly adventure. And, on other occasions, I would catch a small glimpse of the sadness and trauma that still haunted some of them, like my Dad, even 50 years after he came home from the fighting and the dying. I knew then that not every wound of war bleeds or leaves a scar that we can see. Some are the wounds we cannot see, but they are painful wounds just the same and deserve our care and compassion.
That’s why Memorial Day is observed, not celebrated. That’s why we gathered on that day to remember the soldiers who never came home. We realize that wars, even when won, are still about loss for many families and for our close knit communities.
God bless the soldiers lost and the families who mourn them, and God bless the veterans of every conflict who are with us still.