On November 11, we celebrated Veterans Day with parades and sales, but four days later the mood, especially in France, swung to that of laying a wreath at the grave of the Unknowns.
My brother, for years one of the Unknowns, went "missing in action" in 1945. Our family stood at different times -- the namesake he never met, my father, and I -- above his "officially identified remains" in Belgium, the country through which one of the Paris terrorists passed.
George, Jr., wrote eloquently of his father's sacrifice and those of other Americans for our country. He also told of the respect shown by a Belgium father who brought his children to Ardennes. I witnessed such respect when my Belgium volunteer driver joined me in prayer, at the gravesite, in the rain. My father never spoke of his visit. I wept, and believe he did.
I shared George’s story with my other nephews and nieces. A niece sent a DVD of my sister telling a funny story about our brother. A nephew, who served in the US Navy, offered to dedicate a brick in his uncle's name to a veterans memorial. My eldest nephew wrote that he associated a childhood memory with the visible grief of his grandparents, especially that of my mother. He added that my sister’s tale gave him a glimpse of how much we missed George’s presence in our lives. It also gave him an insight into our typical behavior, one of silence. Those were my adolescent memories, and our fear of further hurt explains his insight.
As a reflection on recent tragic events, then, I suggest a moment of trying to understand this type of grief. Those who leave us, as my sister’s tale illustrates, may reappear in talk, but sometimes they continue to exist only in the silence of how much we miss and love them.
Also, here's my open thank-you note after hearing President Obama speak in Vienna a few days after the bombing:
Dear Mr. President,
Thank you for not declaring war this morning, and please don't be annoyed with others seeking revenge.
Now 85, I have heard many reasons to fight. As a community worker in Chicago you've also heard them, mixed as they might have been, with self-interest and savagery.
I joined the USAF in 1948 during our brief peacetime with savage feelings after the death of my brother in WWII. Three years later President Truman froze the enlistments of volunteers as the Korean Police Action heated up. It doesn't sound as if you will do that.
As a chaplain intern I worked briefly in a veteran's hospital. There I talked with injured fighters, especially from the Vietnam Conflict. You have probably visited many more who returned from more recent wars than I have. Some of them you sent into harm's way, as you stated. I'm sorry.
Finally, I applaud your words on behalf of Syrian refugees, who suffer collaterally with our injured and fallen. I am sure that President G.W. Bush, Pope Francis, and Chancellor Merkel, among other world leaders, would agree that they deserve our compassion.
Domenic is a retired CPSP Clinical Chaplain in Littleton, Colorado.