This is by far the most memorable Memorial Day I’ve ever had, and it just started. I had a nightmare that really would not end last night, and I wanted to type this in before I forgot. The dream kept waking me up, but then oddly resumed when I went back to sleep.
My wife and I were at Arlington National Cemetery, and I remember feeling older in the dream, so I guess I was. I was a little confused at first because I was in uniform, the old Class A greens, the polyester suit I hated until I wasn’t a soldier anymore. I looked down and saw the Combat Infantryman’s Badge but no ribbons, not even a name tag. Then a young sergeant who was me circa 1996 led us to our seats. I took a good look at my much younger self: CIB, several rows of awards, blue Infantry cord looped under his right arm, a sad look on his face, eyes that wouldn’t meet mine. He didn’t say anything, but just kept moving us up the hill from the Custis-Lee mansion.
My son’s flag-covered casket was there now – like anything else in a dream like that, sometimes you just know things. Mourners from Ryan’s unit kept patting me and my wife on the shoulder, and Sergeant Kim just stared impassively at us. We went through the entire awful procedure: the chaplain read John 15:13, as in every military funeral I’ve been to, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The rifle party fired three volleys, a bugler played Taps, and the Old Guard folded the flag. A bagpiper played Amazing Grace. Then it got weirder. Everyone: the rifle party, bugler, chaplain, the officer who handed me the folded flag “on behalf of a grateful nation,” even the piper, was me. I wanted to cry but couldn’t. I couldn’t even return the salute of the young officer/me who handed me the flag, I was just rooted in place while my wife stood next to me and wept. Then I really woke up and wasn’t just raining in that horrible dream, it was pouring outside, rain smacking the bedroom window.
I think that’s every current and former soldier’s worst case scenario for a son who might follow us into the service. I don’t know if Ryan will want to join the service, would much prefer that he doesn’t, but I also know that isn’t up to me. As much as I’d like to, I won’t even try to influence his decision on the matter. I just want him to grow up knowing that this day is meant to honor the sacrifices of our fallen. I want him to know that it’s okay to honor that sacrifice, and to make it mean something other than as a reason for a sale, without wearing a uniform himself.