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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2085401
No dialog 700 words Memorial Day, 2nd Place
At eight years old, I attended a military funeral for my father. I stood there surrounded by family before the freshly dug grave. The twenty-one gun salute nearly shattered my fragile nerves. I had no clue it was going to occur. I had heard the adults speak of it, but I had no idea what it was. The simultaneous seven gun blasts were equivalent to a nuclear explosion going off at my side. Barely able to collect myself, another fusillade of gunfire occurred and again once more. With my hands covering my ears, I feared twenty-one meant there were eighteen more sets to be fired, but at ease, the rifles were silenced on their stocks aside impossibly shiny shoes.

The haunting and mournful rendition of Taps seeped into my soul. The flag draped coffin and folding ceremony stands out vividly to this day. The soldier's white gloved hands bestowing a red, white and blue souvenir to forever remind me of the difficult day and worst week of my short life.

At twenty-four, I visited the tiny rural cemetery for the first time without being dragged from the car kicking and screaming. My grief and guilt managed as an adult but gut wrenching nonetheless. I focused on the dirt that clung to the petals of a plastic bouquet of flowers. The sun had nearly bleached them white as they sat lopsided in an old jar poised on the corner of the headstone. It gave me something look at instead of his name and that fateful date that occurred two-thirds of my life ago.

At thirty-three, I visited the Vietnam War Memorial Wall. The U.S. military stated one tour in Korea and four in Vietnam was responsible for my father's death, but his name was not engraved into the rock as his death occurred outside of the conflict. I looked up two men that shared my father's first and last names, stood beside mourning strangers and made a rubbing of his name anyway.

Inspecting the Wall, I imagined each of the 58,000 names as a carefully draped coffins. 100,000 gloved hands delivering the sad triangular flags to those with their ears still ringing as 1.2 million rifle shells exploded their salute as a permanent reminder of the violence that took their loved one.

In my youth, Memorial Day was a state and federal holiday that conveniently closed schools and inconveniently closed banks and post offices. It was the official beginning of summer. Car races, barbecues, snow cones and cannonball competitions. For most, it was a just a day off school or work. I didn't understand what it really meant until later.

What is Memorial Day? It is America's salute to those that made the ultimate sacrifice. It is remembering what my father and the hundreds of thousands of Americans gave to their country. It is the catch that steals my breath when I see all the flags at Arlington National Cemetery. It's a sad day a month after the anniversary of my father's death. And it's a celebration of the freedoms that we often take for granted.

A thousand miles away from that tiny rural cemetery, I wonder if anyone will push a wooden stick holding an American flag into the soil above my father's casket this weekend.

Word count: 543

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