Decades later, when watching the TV documentary “Victory at Sea,” Pop saw video footage of that somber funeral service and heard the chaplain repeat Pop’s own words during the service. Pop passed in 1999, so he didn’t learn this, but two or three years ago, I learned the name of the man who was buried at sea. There is a website now where you can read about him and watch the “Victory at Sea” footage of his burial.
Pop had seen much death and destruction in the war, but he couldn’t shake the memory of this particularly vivid incident. Many times I had sat silently while Pop retold the story, doing my best to be a supportive listener. One night, while listening to this story for the umpteenth time, it seemed right to try to ease his torment. I decided to reason with him the way he had reasoned with me when I was growing up. “Pop,” I said, “that belly gunner was no more dead than all the other soldiers and sailors killed in the war, and his death was more merciful than most, because it happened before he knew what hit him.”
My statements hit home. Pop snapped out of his dreamy, far off, reverie. His eyes took on a clear, focused look. “I suppose that’s so,” he acknowledged, and he then turned the conversation to less intense subjects. I sat with Pop during many more nights when he drank and reminisced before his passing a year later. Never again did he tell that story. That was one nightmarish memory that ceased to haunt him. He had finally processed it and moved on.
We can show our thanks to our military by welcoming them back after their tours of duty, by taking the time to express gratitude for their willingness to risk all and endure traumatic experiences in service to their country, by being ready listeners or giving them space when they don’t feel like talking about what they went through.
To all of you out there who have served: Thank you and God bless.