A day for memoriesIt seems like forever ago when I stood at the curb on Sioux Avenue in Pierre in a crowd of people who were applauding National Guard men and women riding past on flatbed trailers. A local unit of Guard members had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, and the whole town turned out to welcome them home.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
It seems like forever ago when I stood at the curb on Sioux Avenue in Pierre in a crowd of people who were applauding National Guard men and women riding past on flatbed trailers.
A local unit of Guard members had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, and the whole town turned out to welcome them home. The soldiers in that homecoming unit were the first from around Pierre to be called to duty overseas. People were mighty glad to see them safely back, and I remember one Guard member I interviewed who said he got so excited when the bus turn north onto Highway 83 at Vivian that he could hardly sit in his seat.
I don’t remember spending any time during that homecoming celebration worrying that any of our returning men and women might be called back for another tour of duty. That was pretty early in the war against terrorism, and few of us knew — I sure didn’t know — how far from finished we were that crisp morning when our soldiers came home.
Reflecting on the world this Memorial Day weekend, I struggle with the fact that much of the past decade has been a time when United States military personnel, including a fair number of South Dakota men and women, have been in a constant fight overseas. That wasn’t something I was thinking when I reported on that National Guard homecoming. I was just looking for soldiers to interview and quotes and observations that told the story of the moment.
One or two of the Guard members I interviewed that day had been in high school with one or another of my kids. It’s a funny feeling to be standing next to a soldier, asking questions about war and peace and remembering the kid walking down the sidewalk near the junior high.
I talked briefly that day with a father and a son in the same Guard unit. They deployed together. The dad was just about my age. I remember trying with little success to imagine what it might have been like to have gone to war with one of my sons at my side. There’s nobody I’d rather have next to me in that situation than Scott or Andy, but I had trouble accepting two generations fighting side-by-side in the same war.
I’ve been thinking of the homecoming celebration this holiday, I suppose, because Memorial Day is about honoring fallen soldiers. We take advantage of the long weekend to go to the cemeteries, mow grass, pull weeds and plant fresh flowers at the graves of our loved ones, whether they served in the military or not. At its foundation, though, the day is about honoring men and women who died in the service of their country.
It seems such a long time ago when South Dakota lost its first soldier in this current war. I remember reading every story I could find and listening to every broadcast piece on the air about that soldier. The war had come home for real.
I remember the mix of feelings when I got my first assignment to write about the death of another South Dakota soldier killed in the overseas fighting. I don’t know how other reporters feel. I know that I wanted to learn absolutely everything I could about that soldier, so my stories would tell the readers something meaningful about a young man’s life, dreams and sacrifice. At the same time, I dreaded the assignment. Nothing in my professional life has been more difficult to write than a story of the death of a human being. The fact that the subject of the story is a hero means there is more material to draw on, but it remains a story of a life cut short. That’s always wrenching.
I will spend a few moments this Memorial Day weekend remembering the soldiers whose lives and deaths I chronicled as a reporter, as well as other soldiers I’ve known whose names ended up on a stone in a graveyard. I’ll think about families of those soldiers, too, and offer a short prayer that their memories are good ones.
Terry Woster's columns are published Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Daily Republic.