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During my tenure as a local Wayne County newspaper correspondent, I have learned to be aware of little things as potential story subjects, whether for the newspaper or for personal creative writing purposes. At a recent post-parade Memorial Day service I scanned the small crowd looking for a face or faces that might reflect some inkling of emotion. The vast majority was quiet or stood with heads bent toward their feet. I was rewarded when I spotted one veteran who was valiantly holding back emotions that I knew lingered just beneath the surface.

He was member of the Color Guard of the day and stood tall in his New York National Guard dress uniform at attention, right hand in military salute as the school band played "The National Anthem." From a distance and to the casual observer, his somber face revealed nothing more than respect for the United States Flag and the song that filled the air in the cemetery. That same onlooker probably would not have noticed his barely detectable mouthing of the words, "Oh-oh say can you see by the dawn's early light,..." I am very sure that even from my position fifty feet away I could see, or perhaps I could sense tears of pride welling up in his eyes. I had seen that happen dozens of times during such ceremonies where veterans old and young held back their emotions, and in fact, done right, that music had the same effect on me.

Afterward the Legionnaire speaker related the stories of two veterans who lost their lives serving our country--one from the Korean Conflict and the other from the war in Iraq. The tall veteran nodded his head in agreement with statements made about duty, dedication, motivation, bravery and faith. With eyes fixed straight ahead, the Guard belied the emotion that I knew was going through him. He reached toward his face and quietly and without ceremony brushed his cheeks dry.

I wondered what he was feeling or who he might be remembering. After the ceremony, I put on my news reporter hat and walked over to him, hand outstretched. "Hi. I couldn't help notice your reaction to the music and words here today and I wonder if you'd answer a few questions." He smiled and answered, "Sure."

I learned he was the fourth child in a family of seventeen and that his father and a brother had served in the military. At age 16 he left high school and after a time, joined the U. S. Army where he was assigned to the 209th Field Artillery Unit. His experience there taught him what he really wanted to do. After his enlistment was up, he went back to school eventually earning a PhD in Psychology and Theology. With his degree in hand, he tried to reenlist, but extenuating circumstances prevented that from happening. He then joined the New York National Guard and served as Chaplain for 12 years until being put on inactive duty for health reasons.

Standing by his side at this Memorial Day ceremony was his uniformed son proudly holding his assigned banner high marching with the older veterans as they paid their respects to fallen brothers and sisters. It was apparent to me that this Citizen-soldier had much more to tell than he would let be known, and although he smiled as we talked, his eyes told another story--one that I would not hear this day. I did not learn if he, like so many surviving war veterans, lost close friends or family in combat. I will remember the concentration with which he controlled his emotions and yet, the apparent feelings hiding under that somber exterior, and felt compelled to set that observation down in writing lest I become calloused to the suffering of those lost in and those left behind by war.

As the crowd dispersed, some held back briefly at the Veterans' Monument with heads bowed while some paused to read the inscription, but most just hurried away. I watched for a moment as the tall Guard helped his son roll the flag he had carried in the parade and walked down the hill toward an unknown destination - most likely remembering those who had gone before. I thought Memorial Day is of, for and by Veterans and the words, "Oh-oh say can you see by the dawn's early light..." marched across my mind as I drove away from that cemetery to my next assignment of the day in Wayne County, New York.


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