Growing up, Memorial Day didn’t mean a whole lot more to me than a day off from school, as I’m sure is the case with many American kids. Even though I respected the sacrifices made by all men and women who served in the armed forces, I didn’t even know what the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day was. However, all that changed for me in high school, when they found my long-lost Uncle Bubba.
I knew growing up that my grandmother’s brother, my great uncle, was named Bubba, served in the Army, and went missing in action in Korea, never to be seen again. Beyond that I knew little else about him, except that my grandmother loved and looked up to him.
Imagine my surprise one day when Mom announced, “They identified Bubba’s remains!” My great aunt Marcella, Bubba’s younger sister, had sent a DNA sample to the Army that could potentially help with identifying remains of American soldiers that the North Korean government turned over to the United States. Two years later, the Army came back with a match: They found Bubba.
The Army flew his remains to San Antonio, where he would be buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. On a Saturday in March, my family drove down from DFW for the funeral with full military honors and, I have to say, it left a big impression on my fifteen-year-old mind.
Here was a man, dead for over fifty years, lost and forgotten about in some North Korean prison camp for who knows how long, reduced to unidentifiable remains, now found, identified, and remembered. The Army that he served honored his service by transporting his casket on a horse-drawn hearse, playing “Taps”, and then sending him off for the last time with a twenty-one gun salute.
They folded the flag that was draped on his casket and gave it to my great aunt Marcella. I remember the soldier kneeling before my great aunt with the flag in his hands, talking so softly to her that I could not hear his words, and her and my grandmother tearing up. This was the closure they didn’t get back in the fifties, when someone from the Army, perhaps a chaplain, drove up to their small house near Bowie, Texas and tried to softly break the news that their beloved son and brother Bubba would not be coming back home.
Well, now he was finally home, and what a homecoming it was.
Now, whenever I think of Memorial Day, I think of my Uncle Bubba, a bright, hard-working young man with a great future ahead of him, who chose to serve his country in a war he probably didn’t know much about. I don’t know what he went through in that North Korean prison camp. I don’t know how he died, or how long he suffered before the Lord finally took him home. But I do know that Memorial Day is for men like him.
So, today, as you enjoy a day off from work, maybe fire up the barbecue or do some shopping, stop for a moment and think about the men and women who died while serving the United States of America. Their sacrifices preserve our liberty. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Thank God for all the patriots who spill their own blood while shedding the blood of tyrants.
If you want to read more about my great uncle, please see the following links: