Memorial Day is so much more than just a parade
Updated: May 23, 2012 3:42PM
For most of us, Memorial Day is a day away from work and, maybe, a parade. But Memorial Day also is my Uncle Vincent. I never knew Uncle Vincent. He was a pilot killed over Sicily in World War II.
I don’t know much about him, either. The family didn’t talk about him. He was a wound that never healed.
What kind of person was he? What were his favorite books? Did he like Humphrey Bogart, too? What career did he want? How tall was he? Who was he?
I’ll never know. I would doubt that he ever existed, except for a few bits of flotsam he left before he disappeared from the surface of life.
I once found a copy of the Maywood Herald from World War II that contained a Gold Star Honor Roll — names and photos of men from Maywood who had been killed in the war. There’s Uncle Vincent, right before Tommy Edmonds and right after Robert Taylor. I framed the page and still have it.
What else is left of him? When my grandmother was alive there was a glass case in the corner of the living room. Lovingly displayed in that case was the Purple Heart my grandmother received in exchange for the son she sent to war. And there were photos of Uncle Vincent. He was a slim, boyishly handsome young man with that confident, crooked smile all pilots seem to have. In some photos he’s wearing a leather flying jacket and a white scarf. There are photos of him at the controls of a two-seater training plane, and one of him atop a camel in front of the Great Pyramid in Egypt.
And that’s about what I know of Uncle Vincent.
No, I know other things about him:
I know he never knew who won World War II.
I know he never married or had children.
I know he never had the chance to test his abilities in a career.
I know he never saw television.
I know he never received or sent email.
I know he never saw men walk on the moon.
I know he never got to talk to me and I never got to talk to him.
There were 405,399 Uncle Vincents in World War II. And thousands and thousands more Uncle Vincents in America’s other wars.
For the families of those killed in war, Memorial Day is not just a day off or a parade.
It is a pain that takes no holiday.
This is Paul Sassone’s annual Memorial Day column.