On Point: Thoughts For Memorial Day 2022

by Austin Bay
May 25, 2022

Four days a year a special American flag flew from a tall loblolly pine in my family's front yard.

Every Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and every Veterans Day, my father would get up early then wake me, my sisters and younger brother.

We would traipse into the front yard, yawning in Houston's early morning humidity, in summer standing barefoot on St. Augustine grass, on Veterans Day wearing shoes in November's cooler weather.

Then Dad would tie the flag to the rope, one of us would give the rope a pull, and the huge wall of red, white and blue cloth would rise and billow as it rose, the only sound a pulley 35 feet up the pine creaking with each tug.

Hands covered hearts and we'd salute. Two minutes later, we kids would head back to bed. Dad might get a cup of coffee then oil the lawn mower. By 10 o'clock the mower and I would be cutting grass below the flag.

I said the flag was special. The flag had 49 stars, which made it an oddity of sorts, but the fact it had draped my Grandfather Bay's casket made it a particularly significant treasure.

My grandfather died in San Antonio in 1960 and was buried at Fort Sam Houston a National Guard colonel, a veteran of two world wars and the on and off "Mexican border campaign" that ran from 1910 to 1916.

As an enlisted soldier in Company G, the Engineer Regiment, he participated in that border operation circa 1910 to 1911. I must have been 6 or 7 when my grandfather told me he saw a lot of Texas and Mexican desert, but he never saw Pancho Villa.

I didn't realize it at the time, but my father's flag-raising pageants were my first taste of veterans memorials. Our short front-yard ceremony was a very local Arlington.

We weren't simply remembering my grandfather. We were remembering the friends my grandfather lost in France in 1918. We were remembering the friends my father lost in Korea in 1951.

We were also remembering the survivors. According to Dad, Grandfather Bay's greatest sadness was the loss of half of his artillery regiment on the island of Java, when the 2nd Battalion/131st Field Artillery (Texas National Guard) was captured by the Japanese.

The 2/131st was the largest U.S. ground combat unit in the short-lived and ill-fated Dutch East Indies campaign. My grandfather and the 1st Battalion were still in the U.S. when the 2/131st was captured.

The men of "The Lost Battalion" spent the entire war suffering in Japanese prisoner of war camps. A few of the men worked on the bridge over the River Kwai. As I was growing up, I met a number of these POWs, most of them in veterans hospitals I'd visit with my Dad when we were out in West Texas. They came from small Texas towns, in the Panhandle or near Abilene. Though they were only four or five years older than my father, the men in the VA beds looked like... I told my father they looked like old people, like grandparents.

Dad said -- calmly and carefully and not as harsh as I express it now -- that I was seeing the physical effect of starvation, disease and abuse these men had suffered in the POW camps. The war's over but the damage is lifelong.

The flag ceremonies beneath the pine tree definitely remembered these soldiers.

Memorial Day is devoted to the men and women who died in military service for America. But Dad's flag ceremonies always honored all veterans.

For Memorial Day 2022 I find myself thinking about those 13 Americans who died in the 2021 Biden administration Afghanistan debacle. I honor their service and sacrifice.

However, thoughtful Americans know failing to evacuate all American citizens and the Afghan interpreters we promised to protect is a huge moral and historical stain that also seeds long-term national security risks.

Hard thoughts? Yes, like remembering the old-young men in the West Texas VA beds.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


On Point Archives:

On Point Archives: Current 2022  2021  2020  2019  2018  2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close