My 6-year-old daughter has a particular interest in military holidays. While we’ve sometimes forgotten about fireworks on the 4th of July, we’ve made a point over the last several years to visit the nearby cemetery for Memorial Day services. This is the same cemetery where she’s waved at kids we can’t see, but it’s a different section, across a busy street—which, apparently, ghost children won’t cross, because she’s never indicated seeing anyone her age running around this particular stretch of headstone-dotted grass.
My daughter enjoys the Memorial Day music and ceremony. Maybe it’s because our schedules and home and lives are so chaotic, there’s an appeal to the order of a military operation. Everything is crisp: the salutes, the barked orders, the folds in the immaculate uniforms, the flag snapping in the breeze.
Veterans Day has caught her attention, too, particularly since she learned that her grandpa, my dad, served in the U.S. Air Force, as therefore is a veteran. She was blown away a couple years back when she learned that. To her, it was like finding out she’s related to the St. Patrick’s Day leprechauns. I think she used to think of veterans as semi-mythical beings—and was probably disappointed that they didn’t magically steal into and out of our house at night on Nov. 11 to leave presents, like little stars-and-stripes lapel pins.
She doesn’t understand war—who does, really?—but she’s also very interested in combat and death, so she wanted to know whether she could visit Grandpa Fish, as she calls him (because my parents have a fish tank and often go fishing), so he could teach her how to properly use a sword.
My dad’s main weapon was actually Morse Code, which he intercepted and translated while stationed in the Philippines during the Vietnam War.
As a kid, I could never remember whether my dad served during the Vietnam or Korean War, probably because we watched reruns of M*A*S*H a lot, and it was set in Korea.
Actually, as a kid, I had a hard time grasping that my dad had any kind of life before I came along. I wouldn’t have put it this way then, but I think it’s because he wasn’t my dad before that. He wasn’t anybody’s dad. He was just a guy, like me.
I’m older now—much older—than my own dad was when he was memorizing, then living and breathing the “da di da dit” sounds he would make when talking about his post years later. As a kid—even a teenager—I couldn’t imagine my dad as being my age. And really, he didn’t exist as my dad until after I was born. My arrival changed him into something new, as my children’s births transformed me.
He’s never taught my daughter how to use a sword. He’s never taught her Morse Code, either, but he and Grandma Fish have taught her how to fish, and she caught her first trout this past summer on an annual family camping trip.
That’s the veteran she knows, and I’m thankful for him. She is, too, as she was sad that we live five hours away, because she wanted to give him a hug on Veterans Day.
I did too.