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Life as performance art

Life as performance art

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I heard on the news the body of a soldier killed 70 years ago in Korea was finally being returned home for burial. He was one of 42 servicemen whose remains were repatriated a while back, but it took several years of DNA testing to find his family.

The good news is the family finally has some closure. The bad news is it took 70 years for that.

Every day when I walk to the post office I pass the marker that honors the men and women who served in all the branches of the military, as well as the men from Saugatuck killed in action. They are listed by name, a very good thing.

It is certainly an improvement over a bronze plaque I saw at St Paul’s Cathedral in London. That one commemorates an 1800s battle, listing in large-size font senior officers who’d been killed, in smaller font junior officers, in still smaller font sergeants and corporals, then in fine print “and 286 men of other ranks,” meaning privates. I wonder how comforting that was to the privates’ families.

When I was growing up, there were homes which proudly and sadly had a small piece of cloth with one, or sometimes two, gold stars on it, hung in a front window. My father explained that those were Gold Star Families, usually Gold Star Mothers, whose son or sons had died in the war. It was a sad thing to see, but they had closure.

Our post office flagpole includes a black flag with the letters POW and MIA: Prisoner of War and Missing in Action. You’ll see it again with the color guard at Memorial and Veteran’s day observances. 

It is a grim reminder of those men and women in uniform who simply vanished. No word from the War Department (now Department of Defense), no honor guard and Taps, perhaps not a private funeral. Just the nothingness and agony of never knowing.

How long can parents wait in hopes of hearing the doorbell ring and seeing a long-lost child standing on the front step?  How long can children wait for a parent to come home? How long does a spouse put their life on hold?

What’s worse is that as a country, we haven’t done much for these families. Perhaps such situations are so terrible we want to put them out of sight and mind.

Nor have I ever seen, or found on the web, a community that has erected and dedicated a marker or statue to the families of the Missing in Action. There isn’t a specific place where the family can go and know they are remembered and people care.

I don’t think we have been touched by this emptiness and unknowing in our community, and for that we can be thankful. Even so, when I pass the marker in the park, I think we could make a tangible tribute to the families who live with the uncertainty and emotional void of not knowing what became of their son or daughter. 

We have tens of thousands of visitors here every year. Even if none have been in that situation, a marker would be a nudge and reminder to be more caring towards others.

A simple, granite marker – perhaps like the ones installed many years ago – dedicated to the honor, sacrifice and memory of the families who proudly sent a loved one off to serve the country, but never had closure.

It would be our way of saying we remember, we’ve not forgotten.