The US has a “Memorial Day”- a day which has something in common with our ANZAC Day – which they celebrated last weekend.
On Memorial Day the flag is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains until noon.
The half-staff position remembers the one million Americans who lost their lives in war. At noon the flag is raised as a gesture and resolution that their sacrifice must not be in vain.
For the past few years, a certain photo takes top spot on that day. It shows Lt. Jim Cathey’s six months pregnant widow, Katherine, lying on an air mattress in front of his coffin. She’s staring at her laptop, listening to songs that remind her of Jim. Her expression is vacant in grief.
She had been standing at his coffin but could not face going home and asked to stay. She was going to sleep on the floor, beside him for the last time.
The marine guard, on his own initiative, made up a kind of nest for her then returned to his post.
That matter-of-fact tenderness seems overwhelming. Yet soldierly. And in this photo — the one that lives on — he stands next to the coffin, watching over her. It is hard to be unmoved by the juxtaposition of the silent stone-faced soldier and the disheveled military wife-turned-widow, he rigid in dress uniform, she on the floor in her blanket, wearing glasses and a baggy T-shirt, he nearly concealed by shadow while the pale blue light from the computer screen illuminates her. He stony faced, she cries as she listens to old songs and re-reads his emails.
This is something unknown to most people; during a soldier’s absence, the laptop is the wife’s battle buddy. Her sense of connection and emotional well-being is sustained through e-mail, Facebook, Skype and Instagram on that laptop.
Nobody wants to look at that coffin and think of the dead young Marine inside, and there is a sense of helplessness what can anyone do.
“Well,” says Lily Burana, “If you do nothing else, can you remember those who have given their lives for their country? Our country. Remembrance, which may seem a modest contribution in the moment, is a sacred act with long-term payoff — a singularly human gift that keeps on giving, year after war-fatigued year. I don’t need to remind you that America’s sons and daughters are still dying in combat. I don’t want to browbeat you into feeling guilty for not doing more. Instead, I want to tell you that as the wife of a veteran, it is tremendously meaningful to know that on this Memorial Day, civilians will be bearing witness and remembering in their own way — that those who are gone are not forgotten. I also want to say that as you remember them, we remember you.”
note: Lily Burana is the author of “I Love a Man in Uniform” and is married to a major in the army. She is an ex-stripper. Now a journalist. Most of the above information is from her.