"Grandpa, why are we staying here? Everyone else is leaving." At five years of age he seemed to never run out of questions.
"I’d like to spend just a few more minutes here, Noah." At 63 he didn’t always have an answer.
"Grandpa, what was all this about?"
"This was called a Memorial Day service." We came here to remember the men and women who died fighting in America’s wars."
"You mean like the wars we see on TV?"
The grandfather reached down and tousled the boy’s sandy colored hair. "Yeah, something like that," he replied. "Remember your Great Uncle Jim that I’ve told you about? He was killed in a war; he’s buried right here. See here… his name is engraved in this grave stone."
The boy silently traced the letters in the stone with his index finger while his grandfather continued, "This small flag here is to remind people that he was a soldier."
"Uncle Jim was your big brother, wasn’t he?"
"Yep. Jimmy was my big brother."
"How did Uncle Jim get killed? Did someone shoot him?"
"Jimmy was on patrol in a jungle in Vietnam, son." The grandfather sat down on the carpet of green grass, pulled up a blade and bit on it. He stared at the horizon as he continued, "He and his buddies were looking for Viet Cong. The Cong was the enemy. Jimmy stepped on a mine; it’s kind of a like a bomb buried in the ground. When he stepped on the mine it exploded and killed him."
The youngster looked puzzled. "Why did King Kong put a bomb in the ground?"
"It was the Viet Cong, son. They were working with the North Vietnamese to take over South Vietnam. Jim and his buddies were trying to stop them from taking over the country."
"Did Uncle Jim want to go to the war, Grandpa?"
"Not really. Some of his friends volunteered to go but Jimmy was drafted; the government said he had to go."
The child looked at the name engraved in the stone again. "Did Uncle Jim know he was going to die there?"
"Well, no one really knows for sure if they are going to die when they go to fight a war. But a lot of guys did."
"Why do people fight wars, Grandpa?"
"That’s a tough question." He hooked his fingers around his knees and continued, "Sometimes people fight wars to protect their nation. That’s what happened when your great-grandpa fought in World War Two. If he and thousands of others hadn’t gone to fight the Germans and the Japanese, they would have taken over our country and we would have lost our freedoms. Your Great Uncle Pete fought in Korea. That was kind of like Vietnam. Our nation wasn’t in immediate danger, but our leaders felt that we needed to stop Communism in those countries."
The grandfather grinned and shook his head. "How about staying on one subject for today?"
"Okay, but who won the war Uncle Jim fought in?"
"It sure wasn’t Jimmy."
"What was Uncle Jim like?"
"He was a good big brother. He helped me learn to ride a bike. He even taught me how to build a kite all by myself. He and I used to go fishing down at that pond where you and I went last month."
"What did Uncle Jim look like, Grandpa?"
"Funny that you should ask. I was just noticing how much you look like him. He even had a cowlick on his forehead, just like you do."
"Do you like to ’member him like we did today?"
"I remember your Uncle Jim every day… but especially on Memorial Day."
The child stood up and put his hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. "You really miss him, don’t you, Grandpa?"
"Are you crying, Grandpa?"
"I think it’s time to go home now, Noah."