Memorial Day has been quieter for us in recent years; no picnics or trips to the beach; usually only watching the President lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Today I’ve been more reflective than usual. I think it might be because we drove though the neighborhood where my Uncle Lawrence lived in 1961. I stayed with him and Aunt Elaine for a few days when I first arrived in Washington for a summer job at the GSA, until I found an apartment for me and Jonnie Sue and our 9 month old first-born, Louis.
Uncle Lawrence was in pretty good shape at that time. My dad, the oldest of the five children, had alerted me that he had a drinking problem and was troubled by his wartime experience. Lawrence had been in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific. A bomber crashed on takeoff, and the entire crew was killed. It was his crew, but for some reason he was not with them that day. It haunted him. After the war, he came to Washington and worked for the Washington Post as a Linotype operator, like his father had in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He was the most artistically inclined of the family; the one with the deepest appreciation of good literature, poetry, and music. I saw him a few more times before his death a few years later, mostly when my dad was here on Chamber of Commerce business. He would get in touch with Lawrence and take us out to dinner. When Lawrence died, he was living in an apartment at 14th and Massachusetts in DC, separated from his wife. His apartment had hardly any furniture, and the refrigerator was empty except for a quart of vodka and a carton of orange juice. He was as much a casualty of the war as if he had been shot. I sent his body home to Jonesboro, and he is buried there with his parents, James and Julia.
The youngest of my dad’s siblings, Uncle Homer, was also in the Army Air Corps. He was part of the invasion of the Philippines. He was shot down in action on one side of the island of Luzon. At the same time, my dad was part of the amphibious landing on the other side of the island. Nothing was every heard of how Homer was lost, and no body was recovered. My sainted grandmother was one of those unfortunate women who never gave up hope that someday, somehow, he might be found, in a hospital maybe, or that at least she would find out more about how he died. I remember a little snapshot of me, then about 4, and Uncle Homer in his uniform. We are standing side by side posing for the picture, in the front yard of my grandparent’s house. I’m also in a little military uniform standing at attention with him, holding a toy rifle. That occasion was probably the last time we saw him.
My dad came through the war pretty much unscathed. He was what they called a 90-day wonder, a commissioned naval officer in command of a ship at the age of 24 after 3 months of training. He made four Pacific crossings, transporting tanks and other armaments to the battle zones. In his whole life he never learned to swim, managing somehow to avoid all swimming instruction and every swimming test during training. I know hardly anything of his wartime experiences; he was one of those who never talked about it. He maintained a regular correspondence with all of his officers as long as they lived.
Well, these reflections were my Memorial Day. I hope that if you have such memories you allowed them to come to the forefront of your attention and reflection too.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC.