my munkle served in the navy. so did his brother, my great uncle joe. my mom told me once that joe served with patton and marched with him in germany. i hope i’m remembering that right. i like thinking of it. my uncle chris served in the navy, too.
i will never forget the time we’d gathered in washington, d.c. with my uncles and their children and we’d toured the museums and monuments. the time we’d gone to the wall, and i’d walked the length of it, intending to go back and really look at it, only to find my uncle at the end with tears in his eyes and a gruff voice. get the others. he needed to leave. he didn’t need to say anything else.
my aunt’s only son was in the marines. two of my other uncle’s sons were in the military — the marines and the army.
i will never forget how they joke with each other about which branch is better. the shirts their mother wore in support of them both. the time the cousin who chose the army spent in san antonio while i was there… the times my younger brother and his then wife and their mutual friends came up for a weekend to spend time with our cousin and me. the time my cousin and i were at red robin, talking about the eye surgeries i’d had in my infancy, and how doctors would’ve made the corrections then… how he, who was training to be a mash doctor, paused from his meal to look behind my ears to determine whether they’d taken my face off, told me that they’d done so, then resumed chowing down on his royal cheeseburger, unfazed.
i will never forget walking into borders at selma the morning of september eleventh to see one of my staff standing at the information desk with a radio playing, my pointing at him as i passed saying, you know you can’t have that up here. we’re open. his face as he asked me you haven’t heard? i still didn’t stop. heard what? that my manager told me not to go to my parents’ house. to stay put.
the younger cousins enlisted after that, i think. i remember my aunt’s son had already served in one war. i remember the worry from that. i remember the last christmas we all had together, with his mother who died a year or so afterward. i remember he left on christmas day to go to saudi arabia. that he was on the front lines.
i will never forget the night i sat outside my great aunt’s house when we were in colorado to bury my brother. i remember sitting on the steps, staring up at a midnight sky and the specks of white and imagining one of my older brother’s oldest friends overseas in afghanistan or iraq or whever the hell he was, praying that my older brother could somehow be with him and get him home to be with wife and sons.
i will never forget the days i worked at a shipping store and a man would bring in red polybags with white stars on them, freedom hard t-shirts and other paraphernalia being distributed across the globe. the time he brought in boxes of t-shirts and caps and coffee for me to repackage and send to florida or utah or london. i will never forget how much i loved that i got to have some small hand in those products making their way to others. i will never forget the joy i felt when i’d ordered, then received, my own freedom hard t-shirts. i’ve worn them with pride.