A letter home on Memorial Day
Dad broke away from college like a runaway horse to enlist immediately after Pearl Harbor. He desperately wanted to fight, but wound up, as he ruefully said, five stories underground in Washington cracking code, the victim of uncanny abilities in math, picking out patterns in random numbers, a linguistic ear and a photographic memory. “Hey, dad,” I'd tell him, “whatever anyone ever says, you fought.”
Sometime during this Memorial Day weekend, I'll also visit the grave of Rudy Shatney, who with wife Joan owned hunting and fishing camps northeast of Colebrook at Clarksville Pond. Rudy, a legendary guide who served as a scout in the war, earned the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. Like most true heroes, he seldom talked much about the war, but he did once or twice with me when we were alone together off in the woods. If I worshipped the ground he walked on before, I doubly did after.
At this time of year, I think about what Rudy's and my father's generation did, how hard they worked after the horrors they'd seen to bring up their families in a safer, saner and better world. And as a World War II baby boomer, maybe I can be forgiven for bridling whenever the latest flap-mouthed politician tries to curry favor with younger voters by declaring this or that recent generation as the greatest of the great. Even a cursory knowledge of history reveals this for what it is, drivel.
We keep an ever-changing mini-library in our hike-in camp, but one of the books that always stays right there on the shelf, as others come and go, is Stephen Ambrose's “Citizen Soldiers.”
I get a lot of mail from old soldiers, but it was a letter from a younger one last week that captured my heart. It came from a New Hampshire woman serving overseas.
“I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your column. I read it online when I can, as I am currently deployed to Afghanistan and cannot get my daily Union Leader,” she wrote.
“Reading your ramblings reminds me of home (we own a home in Lincoln). You often speak of what you notice in the world around you, and what you notice in our own state. Last week, my mother sent me a photo of clearing some trees from my parents' property in Manchester. I noticed the prominent boulders that I assume to be glacial erratics. We see them all over the state.
“If you are ever looking for a topic, could you touch on the wonderful rocks that are scattered around the Granite State?”
I know her name and forward operating base, of course, but we'll just sign this one “A woman serving in Afghanistan.”
Even a hard-bitten editor with more than four decades of newspapering under his belt can read the love of country and homesickness between those lines. Glacial erratics, captain? You bet, and there's a huge one up on the farm on what we call Ancestors' Field that you're invited to come on up and see, with your folks, when you get back home, but you'll have to stay for lunch.
That's a promise — and a salute.
John Harrigan's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at email@example.com.
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