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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's all about the sharing: Veteran's day 2014

Writing about the living is harder than writing about the dead.  You know it's true! I worry about writing articles on my living family members.  What if I get it wrong, they will never let me live it down.  What if they don't like it, well then they really won't let me live it down!  It makes me all queasy inside and I break out into cold sweats.  Now, imagine having to give a speech about your mom.

Last Wednesday my local DAR chapter hosted a luncheon for veterans.  My mother was supposed to speak at it but due to circumstances beyond her control she was unable to make it.  I was asked to take her place because who knows her better than her daughter, right?

Drawing by F. Dadd; red cross soldiers and wounded, 
1916 Wellcome L0009179. From Wikimedia
In 2 days I wrote a 40 minute speech, without the use of slides or a power point presentation.  This was a new experience for me and I never realized how much I relied on the slides before.  I tend to know my presentations well enough to not read from a script and use the slides as a visual clue to what information comes next.  Well, there was no way I was going to memorize 16 pages in that amount of time!

My speech was on my mother's experience as a woman combat doctor in Iraqi and how she got there. I got some laughs (even though no one cracked a smile at my Tim Gunn "make it work" comment), there were even a few tears, but most of all I was humbled by the women who came up to me afterwards.  There was a line and I talked for 40 minutes after the event was over to anyone who wanted to speak with me.  I wished my mom was there the whole time.

Each one had a story. Some cried. Some told funny stores. Some just wanted to tell me about their sons who had died and how they hoped they were cared for by someone like my mom.  Others told me to tell her how she is a resilient and strong woman.  It was hard not to tear up myself.

Then the last one was pure genealogical serendipity.  A small elegantly dressed elderly woman leaning on her cane walked out the door I was holding for the attendees.  She looked up at me, put her hand on my arm and told me how these types of presentations always make her cry.  "They remind me of my Uncle, he never made it home from Corregidor."  My jaw hit the ground.

As soon as I regained my composure I told her that my grandfather was also there and was taken as a POW.  She was 8 when WWII began and her mother's youngest brother was just 18 when he went to war.  He was captured as a POW at the same battle my grandfather was but unfortunately he died in a camp.

I wanted to know more as I escorted her to the car which was waiting for her.  As I assisted her into it I asked if she new anything about his unit.  She clearly didn't want to talk any more and I was not going to press it.  Then, before I could shut the door, she looked at me with a single tear and said "60th Coast Artillery."  She closed the door and left me standing there in shock again.  My grandfather and her uncle served together.

I don't know who she was and I have no way to contact her.  Maybe this was a way our soldier ancestors could speak to us, connecting us, in this one moment.  I don't know, but it sure was a "small world" situation.

On this Veteran's Day my thoughts are with not only my family, living and dead, who served but to all of those who never made it home.  Not all of them made it to a medical unit, but if they did I know someone like my mom did their best to give them another day in this world.


  1. What a wonderful moment to share with her. I hope the two of you can cross paths again.