May 16, 2018 Commencement of Awards, Williamsburg High School. Sixty students sit in rows of ten soaking up their accomplishment of standing on stage in three days time for graduation.
The guidance counselor makes a formal announcement naming four of the students who have already signed with the armed forces and completed their basic training. They will be shipped out shortly after graduation day.
The crowd cheers as they rise to a standing ovation with pride, except for me. It’s not that I’m not proud, I am but I know what lies ahead for them. I feel uncomfortable. I don’t want them to go.
Williamsburg, Iowa is my home. Founded in 1856 it’s now the largest of small town farming communities west of Iowa City. Exclusively surrounded by cornfields our tiny town is tucked away from the rest of the world, but not untouched by it.
Inside the town square more than 100 American flags dance in the Midwest wind, each flag representing a soldier throughout generations of wars who never returned home. It’s equally as beautiful as it is unfortunate.
The diagram in the center matches flag numbers to names. My heart is heavy for this is all that remains.
Veterans Row leads me inside the square, each brick placed with care decades ago as a reminder of those who signed their lives away. I avoid stepping on the bricks as I follow the path. Their lives deserve more respect than that.
As I walk through my body fills with a euphoric sense of immense love and gratitude for the men and women who gave our country their all, not for their ultimate sacrifice but their courage as they fought in times of senseless war.
I march on passing each flag one by one until I reach the VFW’s door where those of us who still live carry on the legacy of those who are gone.
I may not have personally known them, but I will never forget them. My brothers and sisters will forever be with me.
“I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.”
“I will obey my special orders and perform all of my duties in a military manner.”
“I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, and anything not covered in my instructions, to the commander of the relief.”
I say these words aloud, the same as I once had on command. Now I say them in hopes they will in some way hear me.
May they rest in peace.