Recounting a mother’s story
This article was printed in The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter on May 31, 1995. The “little red-haired boys,” Joseph and Corey, have grown up and served in the Army, Joseph as paymaster and Corey as a tank mechanic. Joseph is married to Tesia. They have a 1 year old daughter, Laura.
As we take time this week from our hectic schedules to honor our war dead and to note the sacrifices made for our freedoms, I would like to share this Memorial Day meditation. (Sunday’s Parade Magazine features an article citing the financial struggles of today’s members of the Armed Forces, but that’s another story.)
Along with numerous other young and not-so-young Jefferson Countians, my father and his three brothers represented their country in World War II. My husband had four older brothers who also served. Two of these eight men did not survive the conflict, but were honored several times over for their leadership and bravery.
Two of our three sons now proudly serve in the U.S. Air Force. About this time last year, the younger son, Eric, who was then stationed at Ramsey Air Force Base in England, was privileged to visit the cemetery in the Netherlands where his uncle, Capt. Jesse R. Miller, is buried. Eric, his wife Aurore, and two little red-haired boys drove up to the Visitor’s Building at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten Holland.
The American host had left a note saying he would soon return. Eric and his family looked around the premises and were examining a marble wall incised with the names of 1,723 soldiers missing in action when the host returned. He was very helpful, and within moments of consulting a huge register, was able to direct them to the precise location of Jesse’s interment.
As family members, they were entitled to be escorted to the site, but chose the privacy of visiting by themselves. Planted cedar sentinels and squadrons of brightly colored spring flowers lent their support to the somber party.
They searched for such and such a section, a specific row and number among 8,301 white crosses, beautiful in the symmetry of their arrangement, many of them bearing the Star of David denoting Jewish heritage. Soon Eric, Aurore and the boys stood in hushed meditation before the one particular monument.
None of our family had ever been able to travel overseas, let alone visit Jesse’s grave but someone had been there recently and placed fresh flowers. He’d had an English sweetheart. Could it have been her? Most likely a fellow patriot. (Aurore learned just last week on Good Morning America that each of the soldiers buried there has been adopted by a European family who regularly visits the grave and places flowers for special occasions.)
The little boys listened as Eric pointed out the native American trees- oak, pine, poplar and maps- which had been carefully selected and placed throughout the cemetery as a little bit of “home.”
The boys were too young to be reverent or attentive for very long, so Eric took a couple of pictures. As they turned to go, they were approached by a young man who spoke with a heavy accent. The young man asked if they had relatives in the cemetery and Eric told the story of his uncle.
The stranger related that he had just been reading some books on the wars and was able to gain a different perspective that had never been taught in schools. He said he had come to realize that the Allied Forces had saved that portion of the world not once, but twice. Then, with a look of both joy and sorrow on his face, the young man grasped Eric’s hand and spoke in halting, but eloquent English, “On behalf of my countryment and especially for myself, I wish to thank both your uncle and you for all you have done to keep freedom in the world.”
…Jesse…Eric…I thank you too. Oh, I thank you too!