While Memorial Day is to many the weekend to plant your garden, and the un-official true beginning of Spring, it is primarily set aside as a day of remembrance. We all know that, but I find, as I get older and wiser to the world, that it becomes more poignant each year. We are a country at war, for one thing, at that certainly adds to the dynamic. Also, the surviving members of what is now widely referred to as the “Greatest Generation”, are departing rapidly. These men and women, eventually to be unavailable to share their stories, inspired the great documentary film-maker Ken Burns to devote a series to them.
Another New Hampshire guy was inspired by a Word War II soldier as well. Russ Wilkins, who now lives in Florida, grew up in Hollis, New Hampshire, not far from me. When he was young, he noticed a picture of a young soldier and asked his mother about it. It was her brother, Elliott Russell Lund, who had died at a POW camp after being captured during the Battle of the Bulge. Russ became fascinated with the story and eventually enlisted in the Army himself. He learned that his Uncle’s remains had not been identified until two years after the end of the war. It took another three years after that before his remains were returned home and were laid to rest.
Russ found himself stationed in Germany during the 70′s and his lingering curiosity about the fate of his uncle led him to the library. Fast forward thirty years, and Russ realized he had amassed boxes and boxes of research. He decide to compile it into “something like a book”, not expecting to publish anything or even to write a book, per se. However, the daunting task had uncovered much more than the circumstances surrounding his uncle’s death. Indeed, Russ questions whether or not the remains that his family laid to rest, were, in fact, those of Elliott Russell Lund. No surprise that a book was born, and is now available, and titled, “Missing In Belgium”. I’m looking forward to reading it.
The book also talks about a number, that I’m ashamed to admit I did not know, that over 70,000 soldiers never returned from, and were never accounted for after, World War II. I was astonished at that number. Pause, and think, of the magnitude of that. Not to mention Vietnam, or any other war, but just this one event in history, left 70,000 question marks. That many soldiers who never returned “home”, in any form. Certainly not in one piece, to embark on their civilian future and enjoy the freedoms they had just sacrificed so valiantly for. To marry and raise a family and enjoy the comfort and security of a home in America.
So, on this Memorial Day, I’m sending my heartfelt thanks, and condolences, to the families of those 70,000. How difficult it must still be, to wonder about the fate of a loved one. A father, a son, a brother, a mother, sister, daughter. Gone off to serve their country and never to be seen again, and with no history of their demise or location. As a father, I can’t imagine losing a child, and wonder if I could cope with losing a child in that kind of evaporative way. Just gone.
While the world often wonders, it seems, about our intent as a country, there are 70,000 families across this country who understand completely what America is all about. They will, I imagine, have a collective moment of silence this Memorial Day, remembering the seventy thousand gone.