From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Memorial Day Flags

After what I owe to God, nothing should be more dear or more sacred than the love and respect I owe to my country.

François Auguste de Thou

I served as a U.S. Army infantry squad leader during the Vietnam War. For many years the general perception of Vietnam veterans has been less-than-stellar, but I was always proud of my service and my three daughters knew it. Every year I marched in the local Memorial Day parade in full dress uniform, and I also prominently display my military awards in our home. About fifteen years ago, I joined a group of local Vietnam-era veterans who had taken charge of our town’s Memorial Day parade. Our committee took a firm stand to eliminate activities that were not in the spirit of honoring the lives that were lost or disrupted in service to our country.

Besides organizing the parade every year, our group also placed American flags at the graves of our deceased veterans. I thought this simple patriotic task was something my three daughters should be involved with, so each year I took one of them along to assist. When my oldest daughter became a teenager, she no longer wanted to participate because to her it wasn’t cool to be searching for gravestones with a group of old veterans. So I began bringing my middle daughter, but when she reached the same teenage threshold, she no longer wanted to help either. Undaunted, the following year I enlisted the aid of Ashley, my youngest.

For whatever reason, eleven-year-old Ashley seemed fascinated by the experience. She asked dozens of questions that ranged from what happened to the buried veterans to what was it like for me during the war. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by her unusual interest in the people who served our nation.

As the years went by, Ashley did not display the same teenage aversion that her sisters did and continued to help place the flags. One damp, foggy weekend, however, she questioned whether we should wait for a nicer day. I explained that it was our duty to honor veterans no matter what the weather conditions because during wartime, soldiers were often stuck in the rain, snow or sweltering heat for several weeks and even months, with little or no relief. Ashley nodded knowingly and never complained about the weather again.

As my daughters were growing up, I began to give presentations about my Vietnam experiences to their schools and local civic groups. I also volunteered to be the main speaker for several Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day ceremonies and was one of the founding members of our new veteran’s museum. My continued dedication sparked something in Ashley—I could see that she had developed a genuine sense of appreciation for people who have served in the military. She made me feel proud because appreciation was the one thing that veterans covet the most, and it was especially gratifying that it came from one of my own children.

When Ashley was a college freshman, I thought her feelings might change somewhat, but surprisingly she still had more to offer. This past Memorial Day, our parade committee wanted to have a woman be the main speaker, but everyone we contacted declined. Then, from out of nowhere, eighteen-year-old Ashley asked if she could give the speech. Her request was very unusual because our speakers generally had a military background or were familiar longtime residents. However, Ashley insisted she wanted to do it, so we gave her the honor.

At the Memorial Day ceremony, I proudly watched Ashley walk to the podium and slowly adjust the microphone. She boldly faced the audience and began. “I’m reminded of a cold, foggy day when I was a little girl complaining about putting flags on veterans’ graves.” Ashley spoke with such confidence and clarity, as if public speaking was routine for her. “The one or two days a year that we honor deceased veterans cannot begin to compare to the absolute devotion of the Tomb Sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. No matter what the weather, or if the nation is at war or enjoying peace, every minute of every day a guard is watching over soldiers who will never be identified.”

To this proud father, that was the day my daughter became a true American patriot.

Arthur B. Wiknik Jr.

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