He couldn't tell me why he was sobbing, and would only say he had done something really wrong. The grief and sorrow dad was battling was so intense I was sure something terrible had just happened. I’d never seen my dad cry and I wasn’t sure how to help him.
I convinced him to sit with me on the front porch and just hold my hand. After many minutes of silence he finally said, “we did what we were told to do.”
The dementia had him convinced it was 1942 and he thought he had just returned home from the military.
As a bombardier in World War II, the oath he had taken was still intact:
“Mindful of the secret trust about to be placed in me by my commander in chief, the president of the United States, by whose direction I have been chosen for bombardier training … and mindful of the fact that I am to become guardian of one of my country's most priceless military assets, the American bombsight … I do here, in the presence of almighty God, swear by the Bombardier's Code of Honor to keep inviolate the secrecy of any and all confidential information revealed to me, and further to uphold the honor and integrity of the Army Air Force, if need be, with my life itself.”
How many of us truly realize the weight our soldiers carry for what they endured to protect us and our freedoms? It’s not something ever forgotten. They carry it with them forever. The injustice isn't being engaged in a war, it's that our family, friends and loved ones pay this price for our freedom. The military today isn’t being drafted, they are volunteering to leave their homes so we can stay in ours.
Saying we're Americans rolls off our tongues so easily. It's a gift, more often than not, which is taken for granted. We lay our heads on soft, fluffy pillows each night, oblivious we are a nation at war, unaware of the suffering and anguish of those fighting for our lives, or being mindful to those who have died for our freedom.
Memorial Day is a time for reflection, to show our love and respect for those who were near and dear to our hearts. But we must also remember the hundreds of thousands of military men and women who lost their lives while protecting ours.
After some time had passed, I got some bits and pieces from dad. His heart was telling him to unlock the memories, to let go of the many years of holding onto secrets which were unbearable to speak out loud. His dementia had taken away the ability to remember the current date or time or the names of loved ones, but his bombardier's oath, so deeply ingrained, remained intact.
Finally, through tears he couldn't control, he said, “I made it,” as though he felt guilty of his return home so many years ago. “Many of them didn’t.”
The “many” he spoke of was the 291,557 who died during World War II. That’s just for one war.
It’s Memorial Day weekend – we are still at war. Pray for our military and their safe return home.
Sandy Turner is a GateHouse Media columnist.