There is a memorial looking over the old seaplane base in Oak Harbor, Washington. The seaplane base is part of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. On the memorial are the names of the men who died flying the A-6 Intruder in service to our country as a part of a Pacific Fleet squadron. You can find the list, along with the names of those from the Atlantic squadrons and the Marines, here:
The first and only time I visited the memorial was when the last A-6 was finally retired. That in itself is a story, the gathering of warriors to see the old bird off was impressive, but when I went to visit the memorial the next day I was reminded that war, and flying war machines, can take full measure of those who venture to engage in such endeavors.
It was a quiet sunny morning, and as I took in the list of names on the memorial I was taken aback. So many names. I began to look at each entry, an initial for the first name and then the last name. It was obvious to me that the listing was in chronological order.
Most of the names on the first part of the list were not familiar to me, I came to Whidbey Island when the war in Southeast Asia was winding down in the early 70’s, so there were men on the list I would have never known.
But then the names further down the list became familiar.
It was sobering to see all those last names and come up with the first names easily, men who were real to me twenty, thirty, forty–can it be that long–years ago and then gone in an instant.
As I was digesting this, lost in thought, a man came and stood beside me. He wasn’t a big guy, you couldn’t pick him out in a crowd, and he had more years on this planet than I. He quietly studied the names. All of them. We stood there side by side for a long time.
Then I broke the silence.
I asked him if he knew any of the men listed.
“Oh yes,” he, said, and pointed to this one, then that one, then more. The names were all accompanied by an asterisk or star, which meant Killed In Action.
“I had to write letters to their parents and wives when they didn’t return,” he said.
We both stood quietly looking at all the names for a few moments more.
Then he said, maybe to me, but I think he was saying it to himself:
“It was the hardest and saddest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Then he turned and walked away.
Today is Memorial Day. We take a moment or two to remember those who gave all in service to our country. We fly the flag, maybe attend a ceremony where veterans are buried. It’s easy for us to do.
The man who wrote those letters knew how hard it really is.
For every name on the memorials there is a wife, a mother, a father, a sister, brother, son, daughter, aunt or uncle that knows the pain and anguish of losing a loved one.
It’s not just a name on the plaque, the wall, the headstone.
It’s the sacrifice of an entire family.
God Bless them all. God Bless America.