Memorial Day: “I tried to protect you, and I failed”

By: Natalie Plumb

Memorial Day

I remember

All of you

All of Your faces

You are no longer here

And yet you are still with me

I tried to protect you

And I failed

So now I must never forget

Your faces

But now I hear your voices

Supporting me

Encouraging me

I feel you protecting me

And in that I will not fail

That poem was written on Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, by Corey Von Ginkel, a friend of mine and vet, who served as a medic during the Persian Gulf War. My grandfather was a medic, too, in WWII. My dad fought in the Vietnam War. I empathize with what they went through. I’ve heard many of their stories.

photo“You’d be surprised how few people never even ask,” Corey told me one day, after I complimented the poem he had written and posted on Facebook. I was asking him questions about it.

As a journalist, I’m wired to ask difficult questions. I can usually tell, whether by intuition or practice, who is equipped to take which kinds. And so, to Corey, I asked: “Do you ever try to forget their faces or names?” looking with sadness on the line that reads: So now I must never forget…Your faces. “Would that make it easier or harder?”

“You never can; you would never want to,” he said, tears filling his eyes.

After some time had passed, me firmly gripping his shoulder in support, I asked: “What’s different about Memorial Day?”

“It’s no different than any other day,” Corey began. “You think about them every day; their faces are flashes in your mind. Memorial Day allows you to see those flashes for longer, sustained periods of time. In a way, Memorial Day gives you ‘permission’ to feel what you always feel.”

“What did you do on Memorial Day?”

“I went to Arlington National Cemetery,” he said. “Everyone needs to go to Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day. Just to see the families. They spend their whole day just sitting there, looking at their loved one’s grave. All those families…”

He showed me pictures he had taken. I saw chairs, kids, flags, mothers, grandfathers, sisters, brothers, downcast faces, cameras…

They sit there in front of the grave all day? I thought.

“You know, I would probably do the same thing,” I responded after some silence.

“You would,” he said, no room for doubt.

photo (2)“Not only do you feel like you’re allowed to feel on Memorial Day, but people always thank you for your service, and that’s great,” Corey continued. “But it’s not about us. It’s about them,” he said, showing me a photo he had taken presumably before any families had arrived. Nothing but grave stones.

“Those are actual people,” he said, and more tears appeared.

Stone after stone after stone, row after row, emptiness seemingly stretching and stretching…

“You know what the hardest line was?” Corey asked.

I shook my head.

“And I failed,” he whispered.

Despite my reassuring him otherwise, he was certain he had failed.

I read in the Washington Post yesterday: “9,800 U.S. troops to remain after war.” Please, let us pray:

SaintMichaelSt. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do Thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

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