Monday, May 25, 2009

Gold Star

Memorial Day, for my father's family, has always been difficult. My father is a veteran of the Korean Conflict. His brother, Dale, served in the occupying force in Japan. Neither came away from their service the same. But far more even than what either saw abroad, it was an earlier loss that changed them, and their family most. My grandmother, Lella Belle Sopher Craft, was a Gold Star Mother. My father and his brother lost their elder brother in World War Two, my grandparents lost their eldest son, Richard Craft.

My Uncle Dick died in the Battle of the Bulge, though I don't know that he knew he was in any such thing. From what I've read of the battle, few of the Americans killed the day my uncle was knew what was happening. As I remember it, he was driving a jeep, the jeep was hit by a mortar and Dick was killed. I never knew him. My Uncle Dale, "Red," I knew well enough and liked as best I could. Before his death a few years ago, I listened to his stories of the war and after with a scandalized awe, as most involved fistfights, whores and shore-leave. Red was a sailor. My father, a quieter, more sensitive man than his brother Dale, has almost never told the stories of his war. Neither ever spoke of their brother Dick with anything other than respect and affection. The oldest boy, he was to them something of an ideal; handsome, gentle, strong and affectionate, riding horses with them, hunting, looking after his younger brothers. Red fought with everybody and bullied my father until my father finally hit him with a 2 by 4 one day and knocked him cold. Even Red admitted he probably deserved it. I don't know that I ever heard of my Uncle Dick fighting anyone but the Nazis.

I did not know my Grandpa Craft. He died when I was still a toddler. If the death of his son changed him, and how could it not have done? it seems to have only made him older, sadder and more fond of the sons that survived. My Grandma I knew and loved as well as I've ever known anyone. I can't say that I ever understood the woman, but knowing from an early age, the meaning of the Gold Star she permanently displayed in her home, I believe I always understood enough to find her forgivable, even when she wasn't.

Every Memorial Day in my childhood was marked by my Grandmother attending a service at which was displayed a portrait of her son Richard that used to be displayed at the American Legion Post in Blacktown, Pennsylvania. That Legion Hall is gone, as is the larger portrait, burned to the ground years ago, though, blessedly, not in my grandmother's lifetime. My father has the original photograph of his brother in uniform from which the portrait was made.

My father's loss is such that he can not contemplate Memorial Day without such a deep sadness, even now, as to make the whole of this day dark. It will be so for him so long as he lives.

For me, on this day, I will always think of the Gold Star in my Grandma Craft's parlor. Some well meaning soul, when I was a teenager, once pointed to the little banner by the grandfather clock and said to Grandma, "You must be very proud."

"I'd rather have had my son," she said.