Friday was a tough day for Mom. As we headed into Memorial Day weekend, she celebrated your 50th wedding anniversary without you. She reflected and shared so many of her memories relating to the wedding day: her engagement ring that you bought in Da Nang; the dozen red roses that you mailed from China Beach to Owensboro; the flight from Vietnam to California that was canceled, making it impossible for you to sign the marriage license; the love letter that J. Richard Gaw notarized as your intent to marry your 18-year-old fiancée; Grandmother Castlen going to the courthouse with the letter and an affidavit to attest to your signature so they could get the marriage license without you.
You always had a way of making an entrance.
As I have aged and now have children that were your age then, it is even more poignant to think of the emotions that everyone must have had even during the wedding, knowing that you would be headed back to the jungle across the world in just a few days.
Tomorrow, we will go to your grave and the graves of your Marine buddies, and we will reflect on how much the war impacted you, ultimately leading to the loss of you at a young age. We will walk around the cemetery and pause at the graves of the men who have played a significant role in our lives: the uncle who raised his family and worked at Glenmore for 40 years and who, we recently learned, liberated Auschwitz; the friend who we thought had a hearing problem because he was elderly but really lost his hearing because, as a 21-year-old, his job was to run to enemy lines so Allied forces would know German army positions; another uncle who had both legs amputated after he stormed the beach at Normandy.
Our lives and our community are made up of men and women and their families who continue to put the ideals and the virtues of what it means to be American above themselves. And they came home and spent the rest of their lives waking up, going to work and trying to forget — ordinary citizens making extraordinary sacrifices and doing heroic deeds, all the while saying “I was just doing my job.”
Of all of the things about you that make me proud to be your daughter, the one that makes me most proud was the week before you died, when you gathered Mom, Chris and me around you and told us that even though you were dying, the four of us had a great life and that you felt so lucky.
Tomorrow, that will weigh on my heart. And in the end, it will make me smile.
By Candance Brake President and CEO, Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce