War was hell. There was no other way to put it. Lorraine Blake-Lively decided long ago that she hated war. It took away everything that she ever loved, namely her late husband Henry. That was nearly two decades ago, and she went out to her husband's memorial site today because it was Memorial Day. It wasn't fair; she was left with small children, one of whom had never gotten to meet his father. She'd asked herself for years why this had had to happen to them. Henry was a good man. Everyone knew that. Yes, she'd heard rumors of his dalliances in Korea, but after everything that was said and done she had forgiven him. It had taken years to get to that point, where she could accept that Henry wasn't perfect and that he'd made some poor choices, but with the help of her counseling and her second husband Bob Lively, she decided that everyone was entitled to be human, especially during a war.
Remembering Henry was important to her. Bob was so patient and understanding with her, that was one of the reasons she'd fallen in love with him. He never once asked her to put away Henry's photograph, and he seemed so patient when she talked about the war. But for all of those times she did talk about it, she made sure the kids weren't around.
Andrew was her youngest and most sensitive. That was why it tore her apart, when three weeks ago he received his draft papers for the Vietnam War. Lorraine had remarried when Andrew was six, so it wasn't as if he didn't have a strong male influence in his life. She herself had locked herself in her room for three days when she got the news about Andrew. He had never asked too many questions about his father, for all he could remember was Bob. But today he had asked his mom to meet him at the gravesite for reasons Lorraine understood.
She knew that she was far too upset to try to reassure Andrew. She had tried her best but even he could hear the fear in her voice. The last thing he wanted to do was go to this blasted war but he had no choice. So today they stood, looking at the grave, wondering who was going to speak up first.
It wound up not being Lorraine or Andrew who spoke up; rather it was the one person Lorraine knew who would have the right words for her son. She loved Bob but he had never served (bad back) and so she knew it would take another soldier to talk to him, to reassure him, and most of all to let him know that his father was still with him, just in another form.
"Andrew? My goodness look how tall you've gotten. You're a tall one just like…"
"My father! Yes, I know, that's what everyone keeps telling me. Hi Uncle Hawkeye, how are you?"
"Everything's good with me. The question is, how the heck are you? "
"I'm okay I guess. I suppose my mother called you here."
"I've been planning on visiting Bloomington anyways. It's been years since I've seen you. The last time I saw you you were still shorter than me," Hawkeye laughed, causing Andrew to smile.
"Yes, once I hit thirteen I took off. I was 5'8 by the time I turned fourteen."
"I'll be da..I'll be. Lorraine I want to thank you for inviting me here. I want you both to know how much Henry meant to me. He was a swell guy, funny as hell, and he got me through some of the worst moments in my life. He could do just about anything…" Hawkeye paused. "Well there is one thing he couldn't do very well…"
Andrew asked a little too quickly. "What was that?"
"He couldn't play cards to save his life! That was why I always enjoyed a good game of poker with him, I made out like a bandit."
Andrew and Lorraine smiled, then it grew silent as they looked at the memorial site that Lorraine had chosen for Henry. No body was found, but she still had a plot with his name on it created, just for moments like this.
"Uncle Hawkeye? Can I ask you a question- about my father?"
Hawkeye looked at him. "You can ask me anything you would like to about him. I'm here to help you."
"Was my father scared? Of war I mean?"
Hawkeye looked at Lorraine before speaking. "Your father hated war. A lot of us, your father included, believed that war was just a waste. Waste of time, waste of energy, waste of humanity. Your father wasn't scared-most of the time. But he did what he had to do and there was no one I would have rather served under than when I was with your father. Would you like to hear a story about your father?"
"On the day you were born, obviously he couldn't be there with your mother. But our clerk, Radar, you remember us talking about him right? Anyways, Radar found a young mother with an infant son to your father's office, just so he could imagine being with you at the moment. I'll never forget how excited he was to find out your mother had given him a son. He would have given anything to be there for you and your family, but instead he served his country. I have tried and tried to make sense of war, but all I can come up with is that it stinks. It really stinks."
"But I understand that you've been given your draft notice. Let me give you a few pointers, if you don't mind," Hawkeye started.
After Andrew nodded, he continued. "Laugh. Find something to laugh about in any situation. No matter how hard it gets- and it will get hard, I won't lie, if you keep your sense of humor you'll go a long way."
Lorriane smiled. "Thank you, Hawkeye. I know how highly Henry thought of you, and it means a lot to us that you were there for us over the years."
"And that's not all. Once you've found something to laugh at, find someone to love."
"Hawkeye!" Lorraine protested.
"No, I'm not talking about finding a girl. I'm talking about the kind of love where you find something other than yourself to believe in. Something, or someone that inspires you. Something that pushes you to be the best that you can be. Something that you can hold on to during the tough times. If you're anything like your father was, I know that you will find your way, even during the most difficult of days."
As they took in Hawkeye's words, they turned to look at the marker that read with Henry's name on it, and they all became quiet. It was going to be a long time before Lorraine felt that happy again, but she had learned to make every moment count. And this was one of those moments she wanted to count.
"Hawkeye?" Andrew finally spoke up.
"Happy Memorial Day."
Hawkeye turned around and lifted his hand to the side of his face, saluting the young man. "Happy Memorial Day, soldier."
And with that, they said their goodbyes and then walked away, each of them hoping for the best for Andrew's future.
Henry may not have been with Andrew during the war physically, but he was there in spirit. No one would have been happier than Henry when, a year and a half later, Andrew walked back in the door, safe and sound. At that moment life began again for everyone in the Blake household.