Or “Can there be closure for a wound carved by systemic failure?"
I’ve visited on or close to the anniversary more years than not since I’ve been an adult in the region with access to a car. This time felt like a little bigger deal—a big round number. It is 30 years to the day since we lost my uncle. This time it was more explicitly acknowledged that my going was on behalf of the whole family.
Today a couple of them talked about him with me more than I have heard in a long time.
My father, his oldest brother, told me today he doesn’t remember the funeral. He was there. My dad brought us all down. My family showed up for funerals. My baby sisters had been to more than a few already. He was obviously torn up, but I did not realize how deep it cut until that comment today.
I realized that I remember this particular funeral, which I attended right around my 12th birthday, with more detail than all the rest (dozens, maybe hundreds, including 3 grandparents). I have detailed pictures and reels in my mind of the solemn ceremonies and procession; the deference to our family while we were on the Naval Academy grounds. The funeral mass in the Naval Academy Chapel. The 3-volley 7-rifle salute. Was there a flyover? Taps. The folding and handover of the flag to my grandmother. The slow drives in government vehicles. The crabs and beers and tears and laughter in the Officers Club. The crisp salutes from plebes, cadets, and officers offered along these routes to us—to him.
I retraced those steps, again, today. I even got a half-cocked almost salute from a fresh plebe before he corrected himself.
I have a letter from my uncle, from some helicopter carrier, written while he was in the Sea of Japan or nearby, which I treasured when he was alive and is priceless now. He had the kind of pull that might’ve sent me a different way if we hadn’t lost him. He was a true believer in a way I am not. I don’t know who he’d be now, at 67. I extrapolate ideas of him, as I’m sure all in my family do, projecting their best version of intentions and wiser reactions to current events into the void.
The sad fact that never goes away: we lost one of the most magnetic people in our family, a natural leader, a hard-driving person who was coming into a new version of himself as fatherhood loomed, all due to the indifference of the military-industrial complex. I don’t know how much my family has wrapped their heads around that.
I’m learning it takes decades to process. Maybe forever.
Semper Fi and all that…