On the morning of Memorial Day, May 30th, 1962, I was sleeping in because school was over and I had completed the sixth grade. My mother came into the room and whispered my name. I ignored her, thinking, “she’s forgotten school is out. I can sleep in.”
When my Dad came in the room, and said, “Laura Lee.” I noticed his voice cracking. I sat up in bed, rubbing my eyes, wondering what was wrong. I opened my eyes and saw Daddy’s face. His eyes were red and he was crying.
“We lost Cookie this morning.” Daddy said.
Cookie was our beautiful, black cocker spaniel and the best dog that ever lived. My parents got her right after they married, so Cookie was, from the beginning, part of the trinity in my life: Father, Mother and Cookie.
When we were tasked to write essays or reports at school I invariably wrote about Cookie.
Cookie was very affectionate and gentle with all of us. She tolerated my youngest brother when he was little. He had a habit of sucking his thumb and holding his ear. I wasn’t a good influence in getting him to quit because I thought it was so cute. When anyone was sitting next to him instead of holding his own ear, he would hold theirs. So, Cookie also tolerated Guy’s ear holding habit.
She also welcomed the new pets that came along, the cats, the goat, the chickens, and our horse, Scout. Scout didn’t like dogs because a neighbors’ dogs had once chased him in the back pasture, running him up against the barbed wire fence.
One day, when Scout had the run of our yard he backed Cookie up against the house.
Cookie had a habit of making her rounds through the neighborhood early in the morning. On Memorial Day, 1962, our newspaper boy knocked on the door, waking up my parents to tell them that he had found Cookie lying in the middle of the street, right in front of our house.
She hadn’t been hit by a car, so Daddy surmised that she had had a heart attack. She was sixteen years old.
The morning was full of tears. All of us were heartbroken. Daddy went out to the backyard and dug a grave on the mound, a high place in the yard. We had buried one of our beloved cats, Frisky, there. He chose the spot right in the middle of the mound. My little sister went into the back pasture and cut a tiny cedar tree to place at the foot of the grave. Daddy carved Cookie’s name into a tree branch and fashioned a cross, placing the Tiger Lillies that Cookie loved in the intersection of the two branches.
When we laid Cookie to rest Daddy said a prayer and spoke of the blessing that Cookie had added to our lives. I remember hearing the term, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” for the first time. On one side of the house the tiger lillies bloomed. That was Cookie’s favorite sleeping spot. The tiger lillies are still blooming today as if in remembrance of the little black dog that found comfort beside them.
That was the first Memorial Day that hurt. Back then, Memorial Day was an actual fixed day in the calendar. There were no three day weekends. I was supposed to go to a Sixth Grade party at my friend, Paulette’s house. I could stay only a few minutes.
The little cedar tree, planted by my sister, now towers over the mound. We’ve always called it The Cookie Tree. The ice storm of 2000 damaged it considerably, but it still stands as an enduring memorial to the little dog we loved.
We had been taken to visit the graves of our great grandparents on earlier Memorial Days and on that Memorial Day, 1962, we were planning to visit Oak Cemetary, where my grandfather, Guy Smith Webster had been buried just a year before. That was my first big heartbreak, he was the grandfather I followed around like a puppydog.
We didn’t make it that year. After burying Cookie that morning the day was pretty much spent in tears. Tommy Across the Street was watching us gather around the grave and told his mother that he thought our grandmother must have died.
In future years I was to learn the true meaning of Memorial Day. Back then I thought Memorial Day honored any and all dead and on every subsequent Memorial Day our family always thought of Cookie.
Five years later, when the Vietnam War was raging, a close friend of our family, Butch Cecil, was killed in action on July 14th, 1967 in the Quang Tri Province.
Butch was laid to rest in the oldest National Cemetery in the country, The U.S. National Cemetery in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
My Uncle Max was always a towering figure in my life. He was a great athlete who played with my Dad on their Fast Pitch Softball teams. He was the pitcher who many times hurled no-hitters and helped take their team to four straight state championships. He was later nominated for the Fast Pitch Softball Hall of Fame.
Uncle Max entertained us when we were kids by playing the violin, making us laugh with his funny jokes and doing smoke tricks with his cigarettes. I didn’t know when I was young that he had also served in the Pacific Theater in World War ll as a tail gunner. One day when I was a teenager Uncle Max quietly brought out his World War ll photo album.
In future years the veterans of wars in our family would be laid to rest in the National Cemetery. My precious Uncle Max, my father-in-law, C.C, both World War ll vets, and my husband’s grandfather, Riley Nolan Donoho, who served in World War l.
I was blessed to know my uncles and father-in-law; they were steadfast men who left home to go to war and, thankfully, came home safely. They lived through the wars, had families and helped them to grow up.
Butch Cecil and a million other combat veterans, lost in our nations wars, gave their all. Those in the military today continue to give their lives for our country in the War on Terror. I learned this weekend that one 875th Engineers’ soldier was killed and another wounded this past Saturday in Iraq.
In this age of three-day weekends, Memorial Day seems to have lost its meaning. Many Americans don’t find it convenient nowadays to find time to pause to honor our American War dead. It’s just not in the three-day weekend schedule. There are the picnics, the traveling, the cookouts and all the rest.
Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.” — VFW 2002 Memorial Day address
Little of the coverage focuses on the sacrifice of the combat veterans who served our country. If it’s covered at all, it’s to present the body count, not the heroic acts and progress made in our war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It’s just another day to many Americans, just as it was to me when I was young. I only knew it as the sad day that my dog, Cookie died. Most Americans celebrate the Memorial Day weekend as just another day off work.
It’s so much more. Memorial Day fills me with gratitude for the many fine Americans who have defended our country by giving their all. It makes me sad for all of the families who’ve lost their precious loved ones. It’s bittersweet because, while many of us have family members doing their duty in harms way, a multitude of Americans aren’t even aware that the war is ongoing, and our troops could use the support of all of us. On Memorial Day this year, none of us should sleep in, it’s not just another day to play, it’s a day to honor the best and bravest of all Americans.
Sisu understands the reason why we, as Americans, owe our every sunrise to those who made it possible.
Lorie Byrd at Wizbang has a Memorial Day Roundup.
Blackfive has a Memorial Day Thank You from those left behind.
“This year, with the war clouds of Europe so lately threatening the peace of the entire world, I felt I wanted to do something special - something that would not only be a memorial to our soldiers - but would also emphasize just how much America means to each and every one of us … The song is ‘God Bless America’; the composer, Mr. Irving Berlin. When I first tried it over, I felt, here is a song that will be timeless - it will never die - others will thrill to its beauty long after we are gone. In my humble estimation, this is the greatest song Irving Berlin has ever composed … As I stand before the microphone and sing it with all my heart, I’ll be thinking of our veterans and I’ll be praying with every breath I draw that we shall never have another war…” — KS introducing “God Bless America” on her radio show, Armistice Day, November 11, 1938
On this Day of Memory, we mourn brave citizens who laid their lives down for our freedom. They lived and died as Americans. May we always honor them. May we always embrace them. And may we always be faithful to who they were and what they fought for.
Take time to remember the three members of the Weapons Intelligence Flight lost during their Iraq deployment.
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