One more thought on (or about) Independence Day

I wrote this a couple of years ago and meant to put it here on Wednesday, but my fury about the current war got in the way. So, here..

Thoughts on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day
(to Ike- My Fourth of July 0ffering)

I wish they had talked more,
And I wish we’d have asked more.

They were our
fathers, uncles, teachers, and neighbors,
And that one guy who sat at the park
by himself.
They were men, then,
and we couldn’t imagine they had been soldiers.
We played in the dirt
with our plastic army guys
and mimicked machine guns in the woods
then spun to the ground in death throes
we knew nothing of.
They didn’t tell us how to play,
or how men really died…screaming sometimes.
They kept those thoughts to themselves,
sitting on them in a silence
which their children did not need to hear about,
because nothing could be that terrible.
Ever again.

Maybe it was a matter of time:
A time when tears did not signal doors
opening to what really mattered;
A time when it was best
to be busy with the yard, the car,
the other thousand tasks
which mattered to them
but have never mattered to me.
A time when sitting next to others at
Rotary or Kiwanis who shared those memories
was enough.

Even when we wanted them,
so we could compare my dad and your dad,
to talk, they would answer questions,
without elaboration, a sentence or two,
then back to the yard or car.

Al hid in a haystack in France for months.
Then left for the garage.
Fred’s brother died in a tree,
shot while he parachuted.
But he’s gotta change the oil today.
Dick was in a POW camp for a year.
He ate mice.
That damn yard’s getting out of hand.

Dad saw Japanese skulls bobbing in the water
but didn’t know what to do about them.
And he had to go down to the cellar.

We didn’t know how to ask;
and they didn’t know how to tell us, anyway.
So we all got older together
during quiet baseball games in the back yard.
When we came back, they’d gotten very old.
Dad did, too. Sometimes he would just sit.
I remember him the summer before he died,
him sitting by the back porch crushing sweat bees
with the handle of a hoe.
Maybe I should have asked him then.

The guy in the park shot himself
years before he’d gotten old.
And now the rest, all of them that I knew
while they worked on their cars
or in their yards,
or who sat at Rotary meetings each week,
and who needed stuff from the cellar, the barn, town…
they’ve joined that first one.

Maybe they had all died back then and gone to hell
on the shores of France, or on some jungle island,
or behind the barbed wire of a camp somewhere in Germany.
Maybe these new lives had so little to do
with where they’d been
that the silence had to be.
Maybe they simply could not go back there
while their kids were playing war in the woods,
because they might have had to die all over again.

Requiescat in pace.
We just didn’t know.

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