by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
One thousand, full sized, American flags flew on a grassy green, long rolling boulevard in Cody, Wyoming.
It was their second annual Field of Honor Flag Day. Each flag was purchased on someone’s behalf. Sometimes it was for a family member who had served in the military. Some flags were given in honor of a special friend. And some were purchased to show respect and gratitude to an organization or group who has made a difference in their community. At any rate, up until this event, I have never seen so many large flags jam-packed in one place. Quite an impressive sight for these timeworn eyes.
This vista reminded me of a saying by Sara Teasdale, “My soul is a broken field, plowed by pain”. This field was created to honor those who sacrificed so much for their country, their communities, and their fellow Americans. Each flag was a tangible reminder of the broken souls, bodies, and hearts impacted by wars old and new. We brought two flags, one to commemorate an uncle who I had never met who died in WWII as part of Patton’s assault in Normandy; the other was to pay tribute to Tony and all those who served in Vietnam.
What made this a wonderful event were the charming individuals who attended the four days of celebrations. Much like the Vietnam Wall experience, many visited the Field of Honor to pay their respect, to view the sight of these amazing flags sometimes pounded ruthlessly by the heavy winds of Wyoming. There were times when some of us wondered if they would sustain such severe gusts. Yet, they did, every day, every night, and every gale. Several of the individuals we met were like the flags, tough, reliable, and persistent.
One veteran, John, was a ninety year old man who served in WWII in Africa, then Korea, and finally Vietnam. After our presentation he stated he would once again be visited by nightmares and visions from his past war conflicts. “They never seem to go away”, he declared, “and continually find their way into my thoughts and dreams.” The second individual, I watched from our position as guest speakers. He was a young man bouncing around a very small baby who couldn’t be more than a month old. After placing his tiny package into a near-by stroller, he just stood there, listening and watching. Shortly after our talk, I walked over to where he was standing and asked if he was a veteran. “Yes”, he responded. He had served several tours in combat. Much like the stories I told of a few of my university students who tried to return to school after war, he also dropped out, unable to withstand the innocence of a campus youth who have never been exposed to war’s trauma. Now he was in the process of reorganizing his life as a new father/husband, and finding a fulfilling purpose for his life. A life that he will have to fight for in order to live fully. A life with struggles. Much like his combat encounters, he will have to accept and move forward. A life with some sorrows that must be endured. And a life created with his special song that must be sung with great passion.
So here is wishing peace to all the John’s that went through too many battles and still struggle with their demons after such a very long time. And for all the young Patrick’s who are composing their own unique melodies.
May their ballads be full of love, laughter, and happiness.