Church attendance was skimpy on Memorial Day weekend, the official start of summer. While families and friends were sitting on their boats on lakes, our family attended church. A small part of the program was devoted to recognizing and honoring my father-in-law, a World War II veteran.
According to the National World War II museum in New Orleans, a memory of World War II vanishes every 90 seconds. That’s how often one a veteran of the “Great War” dies. Of the 16 million Americans who fought, there are less than 1.7 million remaining. By 2036, they will all be gone.
In the Native American community, there are even fewer, but no other group had a higher percentage of men fighting in World War II than Native Americans. Ironic, isn’t it? The military reports that 99% of Native American men enrolled in the draft. Beyond those called to serve, 40% more VOLUNTEERED. My father-in-law was one of them.
Required by the government to attend Indian boarding school from a young age, my father-in-law left Goodland School at age 16 to volunteer. He lied about his age and probably added to his height by standing on his toes too. He was sent to the Pacific and fought in places like Guadalcanal. He was assigned to artillery, which started a hearing loss that has only exacerbated over time.
The man who organized the tribute got up to speak. I don’t remember what was said, but I do remember tears running down my face. My father-in-law is the most patriotic man I know. I’ve seen him get emotional when he feels like the American flag is being mistreated. I knew of no other man more deserving of this honor.
The church gave him a Pendleton blanket and their thanks for the sacrifices he made for us all. Next to me, the toughest of my sons swiped at his eyes. I worried that my father-in-law wouldn’t understand what was going on. Parkinson’s disease has affected his memory and balance. Add that to the hearing loss and he sometimes gets confused. I needn’t have worried. He spoke briefly, with dignity and a catch in his voice. A hero.