Today is Memorial Day here in the U.S. In my family and our community, it was always a special day. The last day of school before Memorial Day was made very poignant, even for those of is in elementary school. We learned a little about World War II and about the soldiers who fought there...and those who died there. There would be a patriotic play that we'd put on and often, a speaker would come to our assembly. Each student went home that day with a small American flag on a stick that we could put in front of our homes.
On Memorial Day itself, our town (now the CITY of Framingham) would hold a small parade in several parts of the community. Right down the street from my elementary school was Memorial Square. It was really just a small island in the road at a "T" intersection, but everyone knew where Memorial Square was and why it was there.
Our late father was drafted in WWII and found himself in the Pacific theater. Sure, Dad was a soldier, but he also wound up being one of the cooks in his unit. They usually arrived to an area in the second or third "wave" after most of the fighting was done. However, as his old scrapbook depicted, they still had some fighting to do and it was not pleasant. Dad came down with malaria among other common, tropical diseases that occur under the conditions in which they lived. Thankfully, he made it home safely, where he married our mother, whom he had fallen in love with, through the mail and never having met until his return. I proudly display the American Flag that our family received when he passed away.
One of our dad's best friends was my uncle who was married to one of our mom's sisters. As was common back then, the two couples almost always lived next to or very close to each other. Even when our family finally migrated to the new home developments west of Boston, my aunt, uncle and cousins shortly followed and lived just a few houses down the street from us!
Our uncle fought in the European theater and was assigned to a tank battalion. As kids, we heard he had been badly injured, but he looked fine to us. One day, I asked dad about it and he explained that our uncle was one of five men in a tank, right on the border between France and Germany. The morning after arriving there, the battle erupted at sun-up. Our uncle's tank was hit by a shell and he was blown out of the tank, his clothes and hair on fire and seriously injured. His four comrades weren't that lucky and perished in that attack. The medics treated our uncle and got him to a field hospital and eventually to a hospital in the UK. Thankfully, he pulled through.
Our Dad and Uncle really were best buddies. When my aunt and uncle and my cousins would come over, my uncle would greet our father with, "Hello, Joe!" To which dad would say, "Hello, Joe!" This went on for years and I never could understand why they called each other, "Joe;" neither man had that name. One day, (when I was about 9 or 10) I asked Dad why did they call each other, "Joe." He explained that during the war, Army soldiers were often referred to as "G.I. Joe," (yes....way before the toy doll!) And they just used the appellation from their days in the service.
Our dad passed away in 1984 and our uncle had a hard time losing him. I tried to call my uncle on every Memorial Day and on his birthday in July. We would only talk for a few minutes, but it meant so much to me and as I learned, meant so much to him. Over the last 10-15 years, we traveled back to Boston during summer break and always made a point of going to visit our uncle. He shared his story with our daughters at any visit where we were all together. Then, he'd ask me to turn on the Red Sox game! Our uncle passed away at the age of 104, sound of mind, if not of body.
Today, this very day, I have no political view or agenda. Today is Memorial Day - the day I remember all of our brave men and women, those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation, those who served this nation proudly and those who continue to serve today. And, for my two favorite soldiers. "Hello Joe!"
Steve Greene is the president of 5-Alarm Task Force Corp., a 501 (c) (3), non-profit company and the Creator/Host of the "5-Alarm Task Force" podcast.