Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Veteran's Day

I have never given a lot of thought to Veteran's Day. I am always thankful for my papaw, uncles and dear friend David who served our country in the military, but I've never been overly emotional about the holiday. I buy my poppy from a nice Veteran at Walmart and go about my merry way. Until this year.

This Veteran's Day brought along thoughts of my uncle who passed away this summer. My Uncle Joe served two tours of duty in Vietnam and spent over 25 years in the Air Force living around the world. He suffered from cancer caused by his spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Yet, when he died in July, he was not eligible for a military funeral or burial in a VA cemetery, according to the VA in Tennessee.

I remember many things about my Uncle Joe. He made the trip home from Tennessee every year after her retired to attend Museum Days in Fairmount. He had to have Pete's Pride pork fritters, Vogel's carmel rolls, and my mamaw's ham salad and liver and onions every time he was home. I can even remember my mamaw shipping him the rolls. My dad always thought this perculiar and just had a fit over my uncle's strange eating habits. It took me until he died to figure it out. He had cancer in his mouth and I think he ate those things so religiously because he could remember what they tasted like before his treatments and oral skin grafts. I don't things ever tasted like much to him after that. That's just my layman's theory.

A few years ago, my uncle's wife died. He continued to make his solo trips to Indiana, but then someone new came along for the ride. My uncle had a girlfriend, a perfect southern lady if I ever met one. Trish was just a peach. With her addition to my uncle's life, he became a new person. He was more talkative, friendlier on his visits home. And Trish was a doll, loving little Jay and doting her affection on him. She was a nurse and she could relate to Jay's medical issues and not be intimidated or afraid.

But those things are neither here nor there. The reason my Uncle Joe has weighed so heavy on my mind this week is because of his tragic death this summer. For reasons that none of us will ever know, he took the life of his wife of less than three years and then committed suicide one Friday in July. We will never know why and this tragedy has struck our family so deeply. My two cousins are now parent-less. My mother and her brothers suffer from the knowledge of it all.

Because of the way my uncle's life ended, it didn't matter that he gave almost 30 years of his life to serve in the United States Military. He was no longer eligible for the honors he had earned in his life. To me, that is as big a tragedy as the way his life ended. Did this man not serve his country in Vietnam? Did he not move here, there, and everywhere in service of his country? Was he the first member of the United States Military to take another life?

Not even a month after my uncle passed on, my mamaw passed away. She had suffered from Alzheimer's and cancer for some time and died painfully with my mother at her side, never knowing that her oldest son, the most beloved of all her children, had committed suicide the month before. The knowledge surely would have killed her.

While I know she had no earthly awareness that my uncle had passed away, I like to believe that when she passed on to the other side he was waiting there with my papaw to welcome her home. I have to believe that, no other knowledge will give me peace. I remember driving home from my mamaw's funeral and thinking to myself, "I hope my Uncle Joe is with my Mamaw and Papaw." I hope and pray that with all my heart. I hope that he has found peace in the afterlife, because I am not sure how much peace he had here on earth.

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