Cherishing the Departed

A Memorial Day Weekend talk

James Leroy Wilson

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The following talk was delivered to Unity Lincoln (NE) on May 29,2022. Some material is repeated from earlier writings.

Cherishing the Departed

By James Leroy Wilson

Good morning!

As you know, tomorrow is Memorial Day, a holiday in the United States for mourning those who died while serving in the armed forces. It has evolved to a day where many people take time to remember or visit the graves of their departed loved ones whether or not they had served.

I have been fortunate not to have had family or friends who were killed in war, but many have served.

My grandparents came from large families, and I have more great-uncles than I can name. (In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if any of you, or all of you, are second cousins.)

I do know of two great-uncles who served in World War II. They were infantrymen in their early-to-mid 30's.

I remember seeing one occasionally at family events when I was a child. He almost never spoke. I didn’t really get to know him. I think it was after his death that I was told that he was part of a unit that reached one of the concentration camps in Europe, but always refused to talk about the war.

The other great-uncle I knew a little bit better, but again it was after his death that I learned he was in the war. I was told that he said that his rifle would get too hot to hold, so I knew he was in the thick of battle and am thankful he came home.

My dad came from a family of six sons, and five served in the Navy during wartime.

  • The two oldest were in World War II, each joining the Navy right after high school graduation.
  • Those two were also in the Korean War, with two other uncles who joined the Navy after getting kicked out of the University of Nebraska
  • My Dad was born in 1936, coming of age after Korea and having a family by the time Vietnam heated up and didn’t serve.
  • My youngest uncle was an orderly on a hospital ship in Vietnam.

I have a cousin who was in a nuclear submarine during Vietnam but wasn’t really a part of the war, and several other cousins have served in the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard over the ensuing decades, but saw no combat.

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James Leroy Wilson

Former activist. Writer with a range of interests from spirituality to sports.