It is customary for us to take time on this sacred day (sacred meaning "set-apart") to honor our nation's fallen heroes. Well, I certainly want to do that. I'm eternally grateful for all the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice which continues to purchase the liberties we can enjoy and celebrate today.
On this particular Memorial Day I would like to take a moment to share a personal observation that came to me yesterday.
It's completely true that our world would be a very different place if it weren't for the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who fought and died for our freedom. In my case, I can honestly say I wouldn't be here without the sacrifice of one Florida native who gave his life in World War II.
Shortly before the outbreak of WWII, my mother fell in love with and married a young man who was a member of the First Christian Church in Kissimmee, FL, where her brother served as the pastor. She and the young man, John Bratton, were enjoying the early experiences of married life when the United States entered the war. John joined the army in the spring of 1942. He was deployed to the European theatre that summer. Shortly after his deployment, my mom learned that she was pregnant with my sister, Rebecca.
My sister was born in April of 1943. John never met his daughter. He was mortally wounded when attempting to liberate a French village on September 1, 1944. A German sniper ended his life that day. I never learned the name of that village, but I was always humbly awed by what occurred there that day. Part of the awe came from the fact that his death occurred EXACTLY five years before my birth (9-1-49) and EXACTLY five years after Adolf Hitler started the whole ugly mess in Europe by invading Poland (9-1-39).
In no way am I "thankful" for his death. I am not thankful for the way my mother's heart was broken. I am not thankful that my sister never held her father's hand, felt his kiss on her cheek, or watched him shave. I am not thankful that his dear mother (who I called Grandmother Bratton) or his sisters (my "aunts" Sarah and Martha) lost their only son and brother. The grim fact, however, is that had he not died on that late summer's day, I wouldn't be here some sixty-five years later.
Yesterday I was watching two of my beautiful granddaughters enjoy dipping their bread in olive oil and vinegar at lunch--one of their culinary favorites. It hit me then that without John Bratton's sacrifice, they wouldn't be here, feasting on one of their favorite foods on the planet. Their mother wouldn't be sitting next to me, laughing and teasing her husband about little things. And of course, I wouldn't have been sitting there thinking about all this stuff. It was a very, very sobering moment for me.
While I am not thankful for infantryman Bratton's death, I am deeply grateful for his sacrificial spirit. And while I obviously never met him, I "remember" him and those he left behind.
The afternoon following my mother's memorial service, my sister and I went through all the things in my mother's little house. One of the most poignant moments of the day occurred when we found her dad's flag that had been presented to Mother on the day of his funeral and internment. My sister didn't know the flag existed. My mother, for some unknown reason, had never shown it to her. It was extremely moving to watch her tenderly caress those aged stars and stripes, realizing that it was probably the most intimate contact she'd ever had with her hero father.
I salute you, John Bratton, and all the others who have given their lives for our country. On behalf of all of my fellow Americans who have been privileged to be born out of time to "other" fathers and mothers because of your deaths, I say "Thank you."
I look forward to meeting you some day, John.