She was a Roosevelt democrat and a civil rights activist. That
was the final sentence in my grandmother's obituary. And seeing it
in the paper somehow made me flash back to when I was a little girl
and she and my grandfather would take me with them to collect
newspapers to recycle in Tucker, Ga., before it was cool to be green
and people in the south didn't really understand why we wanted their
old reading material.
My memories flashed forward and I
remembered how I cringed when at my wedding rehearsal dinner she
went around and asked our guests for their leftovers to take home to
her dog. She was always doing that, taking home the smallest of
leftovers in wrappings that she seemed to keep stuffed in her purse
for just that opportunity.
Living through the depression
affected my granny and her generation in ways that weaved into their
very being. She eventually settled in Atlanta and worked with
activists there to shape the future that they wanted for their
children, a place where equality was commonplace and diner counters
weren't reserved for whites only. Her red hair seemed to personify
the fiery spirit inside of her. And, when I went home to attend her
funeral, I choked back tears as her friends and our family gathered
to reminisce about her and her exploits in a small town that she
always seemed a little bit out in front of.
It had a
different feel to it than my grandfather's funeral, which I also
attended a few weeks ago. A retired naval officer, he had an honor
guard and my aunt and father had flown in Hawaiian leis. My
grandfather had been stationed in Hawaii once upon a time and “Da,”
as we called him, had taken to both the ukulele and tropical dress
A friend from U.S. Naval Academy's class of '48 spoke
about Da's commitment to his country and classmates and how he and
my grandmother would host pool parties every year in order to keep
up with everyone and their growing families. Da was one of the
driving forces behind my own desire to join the Navy when I was a
little girl. He was the one who swore me in, and I used his sword to
cut the cake at my wedding. He was a principled, kind man who served
his country, raised a family, and loved my grandmother so much it
shone in his eyes when he even just glanced at her. I can only hope
my husband looks that way at me after 50 years together.
community, our military community, has been through a lot in the
past 10 years of these wars. And the recent death of so many at once
has been a terrible blow at a time when many are already struggling
to deal with fatigue and are, to put it bluntly, bone tired. Tired
of death and tired of bad news, and humbled at the devastation of
families and lives cut short -- lives of men and women who made this
world a better place when they were here.
So my reaction to
the terrible tragedy of the downed Chinook on Aug. 6 -- the single
deadliest incident for our service members since the start of the
war -- has been somewhat impacted by the fact I've been dealing with
the recent loss of two grandparents and struggling to resolve my
emotions and thoughts about life and death.
As a military
family member, there is always an imminent presence of the
possibility of death. In some ways, planning for its possibility is
a coping mechanism, as it allows us to feel like we have control of
something, anything. But we know, deep down, that is an illusion.
And yet still, the desire of our family members to serve their
country and their fellow citizens continues to drive them into
harm's way. There are some people who are willing to go through
extreme self-sacrifice in order to serve a higher purpose than
themselves. And I thank God for them.
These are the type of
people who serve their communities quietly, behind the scenes. Or
maybe they make noise and stir up the status quo. But the thing they
all have in common is the legacies they leave behind. Really, that
is the only tangible thing any of us leave behind. Everybody dies,
but not everyone leaves behind lasting change.
In the end,
what you did to impact the lives of others will be your legacy more
than what clothes you wore, what car you drove, or even how big your
house was. These are the realizations that have helped me to cope in
the face of so much tragedy these past few weeks.
there is also a challenge there, to those of us here who are left
missing our fallen friends and family members, to honor their
memories, their service, with a commitment to carry on their legacy
of service. To strive to be a force for good in our own lives, and
perhaps, give a little more than we are comfortable with, knowing
that they did the same.
We can never truly repay the debt we
owe to those who have given up their very lives in pursuit of our
way of life so that we may continue to live and prosper without
fear. However, their legacies of service, and our desire to keep a
piece of them here with us, must inspire us to make their sacrifice
By Vivian, a Navy veteran and spouse
American Forces Press Service
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