Today, American flags drape poles on porches throughout the neighborhood. It is Memorial Day. A holiday. Smells of hotdogs and hamburgers waft across our pond from neighbor's grills. The subdivision pool has opened. It is the start of summer.
From my porch a special American flag waves in the gentle breeze. It is a flag presented to me by an American veteran at the graveside of my dearest friend. I remember the words the man in the V.F.W. hat spoke so softly to me. "We present this to you as a final tribute to Mr. Carter's service by a grateful nation." The presentation of a folded flag is a simple ceremony, one repeated countless times each year when an American veteran is buried.
I had known Howell Carter nearly three years before learning he had been in the military. I recall that fall day in 1994 when he first spoke of the time he spent in the Army Air Corps during World War II. We had stopped to meander through a small cemetery near Leiper's Fork in the rolling hills of beautiful Williamson County, Tennessee. Some of the weathered gravestones dated back to the mid-1800's. One though was more recent. A small, somewhat faded American flag poked out from the side of a newer granite marker. My friend stood silent over that grave for long moments, at one point reaching for my hand. It wasn't until we were back in the car and heading back home that he first spoke of his time in service. Like so many of his generation, those years, those experiences were kept silently within; never mentioned.
We spent many a Sunday afternoon after that driving through the picturesque countryside of Williamson County. And he began to reveal more of his wartime experiences. He said I was the first person he had ever told of those years. They are conversations I cherish all the more, now that he is no longer here to tell me more.
He had just graduated high school when he and his best friend enlisted. They both returned home mercifully unscathed by a war that claimed so many. Like millions of other veterans, they went to college on the GI Bill. Graduated. Began their careers. Married. Started families. For Howell and his wife starting a family did not happen. They chose to adopt and came home with a six-week old son they name Robert. A year later they would learn their child had cerebral palsy. You can give him back the rural Georgia judge who had approved the adoption assured them. He would find them a new, healthier baby. They declined. No child was ever more loved.
The flag that hangs from the pole on my porch is a tribute to a good and solid man, whose values were grounded in the Great Depression; whose courage was validated in World War II; whose life was lived for family and work, without complaint or fuss.
On this Memorial Day I feel great love for that flag on my porch, for the country it represents, and most of all for the man whom that flag honors.