Yesterday morning in church Rebekah told, simply, the story of her uncle Pete. Pete was 21 years old when his ship – the Angelina – was blown out of the water in the North Atlantic. He, along with all but a handful of his comrades, did not survive.
Pete gave his life in 1942; Rebekah was not born for another 14 years; people at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church don’t know the Alexander family history; Rebekah shared just the facts, devoid of elaboration. Yet you could have heard a pin drop while she was speaking. Tears welled up; I heard sniffles; people dug in pockets and purses for tissues.
Why? Because Uncle Pete’s story is one that hits close to home for anyone and everyone who has even the vaguest consciousness of what it means to live in freedom, and what the cost was, and what the cost always will be, to stand in the gap.
REMEMBER! Today is Memorial Day, and – of course – the idea is to remember. Not to celebrate war, but to remember sacrifice. So my suggestion is this: if you don’t have a story that touches you personally, and deeply, then take some time to find one that you can own. It’s that important.
There are a million stories out there. But too many of them remain untold. And a story that is untold is a missed opportunity – both for the listener and the teller.
I recently ran across a thought I can’t relocate, so I’m not going to be able to cite the source. But what it said – essentially – was this, “In war there are no un-wounded soldiers.” Or, to re-phrase the idea in my own words, the casualty rate in war is always 100%.
WW2: This time last year I was finishing up a series of interviews with a remarkable group of people in a Brandon retirement community. The paper I was writing for discovered 14 WW2 veterans in the same building, and I was asked to tell their stories.
So every Tuesday morning for two months I rendezvoused with history in the reading room; I listened to humble people share their memories, and of course they gave me so much more than a collection of facts.
Here’s my point for this post. Sometimes the veterans were accompanied by their children, to help them remember and to help retell the details. But for one elderly woman, who served several years as a WAC (Women’s Army Corps), the listening came too late.
“She met my father after the war,” her daughter told me. “But dad (a navy captain) had strong opinions about women, and was embarrassed that they wore the uniform. He would not permit her to speak of it. After he died, the story was so buried we didn’t think to dig. Now,” and she started to cry, “all she can do is repeat one phrase over and over….”
So I took her mother’s hand, showed her the photograph that had been saved, and asked her to tell me about the war. She held the picture, looked into it, seemed to connect with a memory, and stared at me. “We did what we could,” she said, urgently, “we all did what we could.” Then she, too, started to cry.
And that was her story; the beginning, the middle, and the end.
It may be impossible to talk with the folk who gave the ultimate sacrifice. But we can talk with those who served and survived – the other casualties. Their stories are important to all of us, and they can become our story too.
In gratitude – DEREK