Harry wasn’t sure what he would do to entertain his ten-year-old grandson for a summer, especially since he didn’t have electricity in his old cabin in the mountains. But Harry couldn’t remember the last time he had been this excited, or nervous. Gladys had been gone for ten years now and often the loneliness overwhelmed him like a dark storm that lingered for days.
He pushed his glasses up on his nose and reread the letter from Ethan for the umpteenth time.
“Dear Grandpa Harry,
Mom said I could spend time with you as soon as school is out if that is okay with you. She can bring me up over Memorial Day. She said I could stay a week but I’d really like to stay all summer. I hope you can teach me how to be a mountain man.”
What would make a ten-year-old boy want to leave electronics and constant activity to spend a summer with an old man in mountain cabin? Something mysterious happened inside of Ethan back at Thanksgiving when he read some of the letters Harry wrote home to Gladys during World War II. What it was, he didn’t know, but he was thankful.
He heard Ethan stirring in the next room then stumble out to the living room rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Harry chuckled softly. “Ready for breakfast?”
“Sure, Grandpa,” Ethan yawned. “Chopping firewood yesterday kind of wore me out. But I really like it. Can we do more today?”
“Well, today is Memorial Day so we’re going to the Yellow Pine cemetery and visit Gladys,” Harry said. “The American Legion is having a service there at nine this morning so we need to hustle.”
Harry fired up the old ’49 Ford with the fading letters of “Wither’s Sawmill” on the side panel. Together, they scissored down the mountain road to town.
“What’s the American Legion?” Ethan asked. “I’ve heard the name, but don’t know anything about them.”
“The American Legion consists of men and women who have been in the military. They joined one of the Armed Services like the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines to protect our country. When that soldier ends their time and either retire or are discharged, they join the Legion. “
“What do they do?”
“Oh, most importantly, they help protect soldiers who help protect America,” Harry explained. “Sometimes our government has a funny way of treating the very people who provide them the freedoms they have, so the Legion stands up for the soldiers to make sure they receive a good education, medical and mental health care and, most importantly, are treated with the respect they deserve.”
“So what will they do today at the cemetery?”
“Well, Memorial Day was created to honor soldiers that died protecting our freedoms,” Harry explained. “There’s another day called Veteran’s Day that honor all veterans dead and alive, but Memorial Day is for soldiers who died in service to the country.”
“So what’s this little red flower you gave me before we left?”
“That’s a poppy and it’s a symbol of soldiers who died in battle. During the first World War, there was a doctor named John McCrae from Canada who wrote a poem about Flanders Field and the poppies that grew among the soldier’s graves. The legion adopted that as their official symbol of remembrance in 1920.”
“My government teacher in school said that we spend too much money on the military and that we all need to get along,” Ethan said. “He said that wars are fought by fools and it’s wrong to kill other people.”
“I often wonder about folks like him and if they would change their minds if they would have been with my battalion when we set the Jewish prisoners free in Hitler’s death camps. It sounds like a nice thing just to try to “get along,” but the fact remains there are people who will go to horrific extremes as rulers and they have to be stopped. Governments have a role, and a right, to protect their people at all costs, including war. I’ll bet that feller that’s your teacher has never been to a country to see what happens when evil rulers are left unchecked.”
The old truck shuddered to a stop behind other cars parked in the cemetery. Ethan slipped his hand in Harry’s as they made their way across the grass to a small crowd gathered under a flag flying at half-mast.
Harry straightened his back and stood stiff at attention as he saluted the flag. Ethan jumped each time the volley of rounds fired for the 21-gun salute.
Ethan looked up at the weathered face of his Grandpa with his pinched Marine cap slightly tilting over his white hair. Rigid as a board, Harry still stood at attention, saluting the flag.
All young boys are looking for heroes and that day, on that sacred ground of the Yellowpine Cemetery, Ethan discovered his. He moved a bit in front of Harry and, facing him, slowly raised his right arm and cupped his hand like Harry’s.
Then saluted him.