My family has a relatively strong history of service in the military.
My cousin Rich was a paratrooper that put in time in places he still isn’t allowed to tell us about. During a training jump, he was almost killed when an over-zealous jumpmaster pushed him out the plane’s door, causing him to tumble end over end into the sky.
My dad joined the army in the early 70s after making a promise with God that if he were able to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, he’d join the military.
My uncle served in the 60s, I’m not sure where, but he alluded to the distinct feeling of machine gun bullets passing over your head.
My dad’s dad served with the Army Air Corps in the early stages of World War II with the 30th Fighter Control Squadron as a ground radar man. He had difficulty dealing with fireworks for the rest of his life after spending a more than a few nights in slit trenches on New Guinea under Japanese artillery fire and plane bombardment.
My great uncle, Johnny, served as the top gunner on a B-17 and was shot down over Germany, the only survivor of his plane after flak blew up the nose of their plane and their flare locker. If you look, you can still see the faint outline of his goggles around his eyes, the only place on his body unburned.
This guy drank harder and kicked more ass than anyone can ever know.
My great-grandfather even served, not in the U.S. military, but with the Austro-Hungarian Forces in the 19th century.
That’s not even all of them. There are others that jumped from C-47s into France behind the beaches on D-Day, helped fight Rommel in North Africa or helped transport supplies with the Merchant Marine through the U-boat-infested Atlantic.
As such, whenever I think about the military and the fact that I’ve never served, I get a tremendous feeling that stands somewhere between guilt and shame.
So when I get assignments like the one I had for the Sunday before Memorial Day, I take it very seriously and gladly.
For Memorial Day, I was assigned with a round-up article. Basically, I had to find out when and where all the parades, observances and other things associated with Memorial Day was going on.
One such thing was a small ceremony that was to take place at a Revolutionary War soldier cemetery at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Talking on the phone to the VFW and American Legion commanders about it, I got excited.
“I know the place,” I’d tell them, smiling.
I’d passed by it several times, noticing the small sign out front and the 13-starred flag. I’m something of a history geek and my awe of those that served in the military had always drawn me to the site.
Unfortunately, I only went by when I was on assignment and busy, so I never had the time to stop and check it out.
Now, I had the perfect excuse.
When 1:30 rolled around Sunday afternoon, I hopped into my car and took off toward Route 23 from the office.
It was hot, but a beautiful day and I enjoyed the drive. Sundays, as I’ve mentioned before, are slow, slow days usually, so I was happy to be out of the office with a nice little assignment.
Eventually, I got out to the cemetery but thought it a little strange that no one was there. I was literally the only person at the site.
I was about 15 minutes early so I thought that maybe they’d still come, so I began walking around the grounds and taking notes and video.
It was a strangely peaceful place. In front of the 22 tiny Revolution-era American flags, past a wrought-iron fence, lay Route 23, just about five yards away.
While I was there, documenting what I found at the gravesite of men dead from a fever sweeping through their army more than two centuries ago, a roadster that looked straight out of the Great Gatsby chugged by going east.
Just a minute later, a sleek, black Lamborghini flew by traveling west.
I had the distinct feeling of being at a strange crossroads in time.
After about half an hour and remaining the only living person at the site, I decided to leave.
It felt a little sad, that people might blow off those veterans.
“That’s kind of shitty,” I said out loud to myself.
I got back to the office and tried to think of how I could swing the story since it was slated for A1 in the next morning’s paper.
While doing so, I got curious and looked at my own round-up story of Memorial Day events, at the spot where I mentioned the Revolutionary War graves.
“That’s not right,” I murmured, looking at the article. “Why would they have told me the graves were in East Coventry when they’re obviously in East Vincent?”
Doing a quick Google search, I suddenly realized my problem.
“Oh, f***, there’s two of them,” I groaned before grabbing up my notebook and flying out the door, headed for the Revolutionary War soldier gravesite I didn’t know about, Ellis Woods in East Coventry.
No one had abandoned the soldiers laying in East Vincent. They’d just done a service a week or two before.
I was able to get the story on Ellis Woods. It wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but I really don’t mind it. It was worth getting out to both sites.
At the cemetery in East looking south, behind the flags and the low stone wall surrounding them, rolling fields, valleys and green hills, bluish in the distance, stretch out before your eyes.
It looks empty and if you squint so that the few radio antennas ahead disappear, you can see the country in the same way the 22 Continental Army soldiers there did.
As a rule, I don’t like using the word “patriot” in my stories. In my opinion, it’s a broken word. It once truly meant something, but politicians, businesses and others have twisted it up and repurposed it for their own use far too many times.
It’s a word that has so many latent, politicized connotations now that it’s almost worthless, in my opinion.
Although the men at the cemetery in East Vincent were patriots in the truest, original sense of the word, I pushed that thought from my mind.
Standing out by that cemetery, I thought of how timeless they were, regardless of the fact that they died nearly 250 years earlier.
The nameless men there were the same as my grandfather who fought in the Pacific, same as my cousin who may or may not have been in Somalia.
They were all people that served their country in their best capacity.
And that’s a quality that I respect far too much to ascribe a broken word like “patriot” to.