My English guide and I were at the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, North London. We had become friends and he wanted to help me find the grave of Francis Thompson, one of my favorite poets. He was best known for his famous line, “[love] is a many-splendored thing,” from his poem The Kingdom of God. At that time, I had a shadow of vision in my left eye.
He said to me, “You will not believe what I see coming down the walk.” A cemetery employee was pulling a small three-wheeled cart, on which was a coffin, covered with a tattered American flag. A Catholic priest was walking behind the cart, along with a very frail woman in a wheelchair. She was being pushed by the driver of the vehicle that had brought them there. This was the extent of the funeral cortege.
Earlier, we nearly walked into a freshly dug grave, and I spoke of the danger of such for a blind person. They stopped at the same open grave and two other cemetery workers put the casket in the ground and began shoveling dirt into the grave. The priest was saying some words as we walked up. He then turned to us and said, “She is not cognitive, but will appreciate your being here.” She looked at me and reached out a gloved hand, which I squeezed. I told her that I was American. She handed me the folded American flag. The priest said they were in separate nursing homes, but had been married 50 years, that he was an American veteran. You should note that I said, “I am American.” This is like saying, “I believe God.” Many say, “I am an American,” like those who say, “I believe in God.” All sorts of people believe in God, even the devil; many American citizens, traitors, say “I am an American,” but when you say “I am American,” you believe this country, just as you believe God. When you believe this country, you believe all the history, all the patriots who made this country. I sold that old, tattered flag many years ago, along with several other 48-star flags I owned. I do remember that on the hoist edge of the flag was written these words, “Battle Flag, December 1944.” Perhaps this flag was flown during the Battle of the Bulge. Other than that flag, there was nothing pertaining to veterans or the military at this grave service. Like so many WWII veterans, he had probably met this woman in London after the war, and he had stayed with her. But, he probably wanted his casket covered with the American flag. It still meant something to him—and to her. On this Memorial Day, we think of the 126,000 buried on foreign soil (not in a casket, just wrapped in an American flag), and of the thousands buried in Arlington and other national cemeteries. They believed America and would be dumbfounded to see what has happened to their country. Until Korea, most of the fallen were buried on foreign soil. I stood at the great national cemetery in Manila where 18,000 are buried, and on the 25thanniversary of D-Day, I stood at Normandy at that great cemetery there. What a waste! What a expenditure of life—50,000 in Korea, frozen bodies stacked like cord wood; 58,000 killed in Vietnam. I was still in the hospital from the Korean era, when the Vietnam tragedy was going on, I still remember the screams of the woman across the street from me when her son’s casket was brought into her home on his “return” from Vietnam. We have a tendency to forget the civilian tragedy of war, on both sides. Even today, while several wars are going on—drones overhead dropping bombs, missiles being fired from oceans as well as from “the enemy’s” homeland—do not forget the children who will never recover from the sights and sounds of warfare, children on both sides, in the clutches of man’s inhumanity to man. Never forget that many prosper from the greed of war, fortunes have been made from war. The veteran caught in the dilemma of warfare, the one who survives, blind, crippled, sown back together, is the blessed survivor; those in the soil are the heroes. Many of us worked very hard, while others were having a good time, to get the schooling necessary to sufficiently serve our country—doctors, engineers, weapons/utilities experts. Disabled, we give up everything, accept the patriot’s zeal.