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When I was a child, we celebrated Decoration Day on May 30th.  Following the tradition that began in 1868, it was a time to visit and decorate the graves of members of our military who died in service to our country.  Many years later, the name was changed to Memorial Day, and it is now celebrated on the last Monday of May.  Once in a while, the last Monday coincides with May 30th.  I dedicate this column to the memory the thousands of men and women who gave their lives so that we could be free.  In particular, however, I dedicate this to my uncle Paul.

Every year on May 30th, my family would visit Uncle Paul’s grave.  He died in 1943 at age 20 in a plane crash off Sarasota, Florida, where he was an ensign in the U.S. Navy on a training mission.  He had survived a previous crash about five months earlier.  The picture of my grandmother leaning on his tombstone and crying disconsolately brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it.

My uncle and I shared the same birthday.  I hardly remember him because I was only four years old when he died, and he had been away for a while.  My last memory was when he came home on leave with a small satchel.  He opened the zipper, showed me it was empty, and then closed it.  When he opened it again, there was an army truck inside.  It wasn’t until years later that I figured out the satchel had two zipper compartments.  I didn’t understand what it meant when I learned he had died - - only that everyone was very sad.

His death was one of those things that ought not to have happened.  Paul was handsome, brilliant and, according to my mother, everyone liked him.  Upon his graduation from high school, he received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.  Unfortunately, when he reported for his physical, it was determined that he was an inch too short to meet the minimum height requirement for admission.  He tried stretching exercises but was unsuccessful.  As a result, the appointment fell by the wayside.  Determined to serve his country, he decided to enlist. Because of his age, he needed parental consent.  My grandparents initially refused to allow him to go off to war, but he persisted and ultimately convinced them.  My grandmother signed the consent form.  Until the day she died, she never forgave herself.  A few months from now, on September 11th, he would have been 93 years old.  One can only imagine the contribution he would have made to this country had his plane not crashed.

To all of you who have lost a loved one to war, I hope you can call upon fond memories to overcome your grief.

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