Tuesday, 11 November 2008

This is why we remember

Since Louise invited me to guest blog, I’ve been thinking about how we have spent the four years that have passed since the death of my son Thomas in Iraq on November 11, 2004, Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans’ Day here in the United States. Coping with the sudden death of a beloved child is difficult enough but the fact is he died in combat in a war that most do not understand. It leaves us in an ambiguous position with people wanting to be respectful while still expressing their opinion. Our decision on the night that he died was that we wanted Thomas’s memory to be honored, not used by anyone to make a point about the war. We have since discovered that even asking that his memory be honored can be a tricky proposition but memorials have become our cause.

Thomas’s death left me with a thirst for information about life and death in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Thomas’s unit remained in Iraq, I read the StrykerNews website daily, praying for the safety of his fellow soldiers, only once finding the dreaded press release announcing the death of a soldier whose name I knew. This website has a tribute page for the fallen of the various Stryker Brigades, and even now I go back to read it at least once a month. New names are added from time to time, and occasionally someone posts something new about Thomas, even four years later. I am comforted when I find that someone else has remembered him.

Ultimately, the quest for more information has turned into a quest for memorials, evidence that people remember our soldiers, all of them. Whenever I visit a new town, I search out the local war memorials. Sometimes they include names of the fallen, sometimes they have scenes of battle or service. These memorials are particularly numerous in the U.K. In addition, I have developed a sixth sense in looking for references to war memorials in popular culture. Picking up any book at random, I will find that our protagonist is celebrating Remembrance Day in Australia or looking at statues of fallen soldiers. Maybe a year after Thomas died, I read a travelogue by Tony Perrottet, Route 66 AD. In the course of his tour of the Mediterranean region, Mr. Perrottet stops in Turkey to visit the monument where his great-uncle, killed in battle during World War I, is listed. This evidence that even a man who died young and had no children is remembered two generations later reassured me that Thomas’s memory would not be lost either. When I came across Louise’s description of the window in St. Thomas’s in her village of Three Pines (The Cruelest Month), also honoring men who died during the Great War, I thought “Yes! This is why we remember.” And also I thought, “This is how we can remember.”

I’m not expecting a national memorial to the soldiers of Operation Iraqi Freedom any time soon, but a local one would be nice. In the meantime, I content myself with these more subtle memorials. They keep reminding me that we need to keep reminding our community of the sacrifice made by our sons and daughters. Thank you Louise, and thank you all for remembering.

Lee Ann - http://www.souvenons.blogspot.com/


Louise Penny Author said...

Dearest Lee Ann,

What a touching, beauitiful and powerful message. I am deeply moved by it, and by your courage to do this for all of us on this sorrowful day.

Thank you. And know that Thomas will not be forgotten.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lee Ann, for sharing your thoughts with all of us. I am honored to read about your son and his sacrifice. My heart goes out to you and the rest of his family.

Today I visited my father (who is has advanced Alzheimers) and was trying to explain to him why he had a little red, white, and blue ribbon on his lapel. I told him it was Veterans Day and that he is a veteran. We talked a little about his time serving in the Pacific in WWII and I think maybe he remembered a bit. I remembered for him though and was pleased that the people who care for him had remembered.

Again, thank you for sharing. I shall not forget your son, Thomas.

Lee Ann said...

Louise, this may sound a little facile, but talking about Thomas and all that has happened is what keeps me going. It is immensely gratifying to find that people are listening!

And Kay, both my father and my father-in-law served in the Pacific during WWII. Both of them are gone now, but as you are doing, we remember for them.

frouch said...

Dear Lee-Ann,

My mommy's heart is so much with you. I can't imagine anything more dreadful, more painful than losing a child, and yet you still have the strength to make sure that nobody will forget Thomas nor all the others who sacrifices themselves for us.

Oh yes, I heard you, deeply, with all the compassion and the love I have, and never have I been so proud and grateful to wear my red poppy today.

Thank you so much, Lee Ann.

Thomas is not there anymore, but he left this world rich of being the child of such a wonderful women.

With love,

hilary said...

Thank you, Lee Ann, for helping us all remember.