Handmade Japanese prisoner of war bracelet with inscription "Guam 1946" and center heart bearing an image of a palm tree overlooking a serene beach scene (just months earlier washed in the blood of American and Japanese soldiers. [Click to enlarge]) In the background is a ceramic urn with a remarkable resemblance to an alien space ship made from clay containing my deceased brother's ashes.
******My very earliest memories of soldiers were the ones that hit closest to home. Born during World War II, I was the third son of the family, separated from my older brothers by nearly 18 and 19 years respectively. My oldest brother left home only months after I was born. Just out of high school, he was drafted and sent off to Europe; to England first, then France. Being a teletype operator, he never saw combat, although he was never far behind it.
I only remember a couple of his war stories. Like the charming English lass he met and shared dinner with a couple of times in her family's home, followed by singing around their family piano, trying to escape for a few moments into the pre-war memories of peace which then seemed then so distant. It was a classic romance tale of missed opportunity, of what might have been.
I enjoyed his recollection of D-Day as he saw it from the shores of England, recalling how the skies were blackened with steady streams of allied aircraft heading out across the Channel.
Or after shipping over to the Continent, there was the night in France when he ran into the back of a German tank! I always laughed at that one. Seems it was a very dark night and he was on foot and the tank turned out to be a derelict destroyed some weeks earlier by the allies. (I don't remember if he was on his way home from an evening of a little too much celebrating.)
My other brother, younger by a year and a half, hung around home a little longer until drafted just as the war in Europe was winding down. He ended up in the Pacific, on Guam. And like my other brother, he, too, missed combat, guarding Japanese prisoners of war instead.
Developing an excellent rapport with the "Japs," he had primo handmade Japanese jewelry he brought home with him after the war, crafted from scrap pieces of B-29's or any other war materiel I imagined he could slip them for their beautiful transformations into bracelets and rings, each marked with dates and places from the horrors of that war.
Luckily, unlike tens of thousands of others not as fortunate, they both came home from that great war. I was able to know them, to look up to them and in some cases idolize them as I grew up.
I lost both of those brothers within the last ten years or so. The incredible hand made Japanese jewelry is now in my possession.
Neither of my brothers are "residents" of national cemeteries scattered throughout the land that annually sprout little American flags on this weekend. As they wished, each was cremated and their remains scattered in beautiful locations by their baby brother, each time with the aid of an intimate family group.
And I always recall at this time of year as a small child - after being the center of my parents attentions my earliest years while my brothers were away "at war," of the first time one returned home. It was my brother from Guam.
Eyeing him as the threat he now represented for the attentions of Mom and Dad, I one day had the audacity of a young child to speak up and ask of our returned 'warrior,' "Why don't you go back to the Army!"
Thankfully, I came to realize, that was something he didn't have to do.
"Happy Memorial Day, Bros!"