Semper Fi, Mr. Bill
I attended a deeply moving dedication ceremony on May 26, 2011. Held at the Highland Springs Medical Plaza, the unveiling of a memorial saw families and members of the public gather to honor fallen Marine Lieutenant Joshua M. Palmer and Army Specialist Michael A. Dahl, Jr. Each was killed while defending our American freedom.
The sheer emotion of the event concluded with the playing of Taps and the Raising of the Flag. There wasn’t a dry eye around, including mine.
When I was a kid, I remember Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day. Dating back to the 1860s, the last Monday of May became a federal holiday to honor citizens who died while on military service. It was customary to see veterans out distributing poppies to commemorate this most solemn of days.
Memorial Day always made me sad thinking of all the people who died in distant places. Had one of those courageous young men or women lived, they could have been responsible for finding a cure for cancer and other deadly diseases.
One year before I was born, my future husband enlisted in the Marine Corps. He would serve in the Pacific for 3 years until he was seriously wounded and lucky enough to have lived and be sent home. I remember him telling me what an incredible welcoming he received when he was better and discharged in San Francisco.
He hailed from Providence, Rhode Island and was a long way from home. Still, when people saw him in uniform, he was invited into their homes as their way of saying, “thank you for serving our country.” When I met Bill, Memorial Day took on a new and more personal meaning.
Bill died on May 28, 2004 and his ashes rest at Riverside National Cemetery. Each July 4th since his passing, I return to Solana Beach to celebrate his birthday with dear friends. The nearly ten years we spent there were probably the happiest in our 32 year marriage, although I will say, 32 years wasn’t nearly enough but I remain grateful for the time we had together.
Journalist Tom Brokaw named them “The Greatest Generation.” They had been brought up during the depression and went on to fight in World War II. Mostly silent about their war experiences, after Bill and I had earned each other’s trust, he told me about some of his experiences during the war. I can still see the expression on his face as he described the horrors of war.
“The war to end all wars” was attributed to then President Woodrow Wilson describing World War I. Considering the wars we have fought since 1914, it is no wonder the term is often met with derision.
Difficult as it was for him before he died, Bill and I spent many days focused on his war experiences. Mainly he talked; I listened and typed. He wanted his grandsons to know that although he was seventeen when he enlisted, he along with all of those who served, did so willingly so that those of us at home could continue to live in freedom.
Bill would talk, then doze, then awaken and return to exactly the spot where he left off. Days later, he finished. There was a discernable sense of relief on his face. He had closed a chapter of his life and others would understand why it meant so much to him to fight for our freedom.
I have long ago turned these papers over to my stepson, along with the American flag presented to me at Bill’s funeral along with all of his service medals. Two of my grandsons have grown up knowing how their grandfather defended our country. Bill was always quite proud to say that Admiral Nimitz had personally pinned a medal on him and he received a commendation from Eleanor Roosevelt.
I know I will spend much of this weekend with my thoughts and memories of my personal hero. I extend my heartfelt best wishes to the families of Joshua Palmer and Michael Dahl who have suffered an unspeakable loss.
For now, all that is left to say is: Semper Fi, Mr. Bill… Semper Fi.