I never met my Uncle Denny. I was not even 6 months old when he was killed in Vietnam. My dad had sent pictures of me to his brother Denny, but I am told that that envelope was returned to the family unopened. He died before having a chance to see his first nephew.
Denny had fewer than 30 days to go until he was to return home when he volunteered to rescue soldiers who had been hit by enemy fire. Denny was squeezing back into his tank to return to base when he was shot in the chest by a sniper. He died almost instantly.
I was about 7 the first time I remember visiting his grave. My grandmother made regular visits to change the flowers and bring a fresh flag. I remember discarding several old flags by burning them, because, as she said, that was the proper thing to do.
Dennys death affected my family in ways that I was too young to understand. Though my grandmother would share stories about him, until her dying day she would tear up at the mention of his name. She never really recovered from losing a son. Now Im old enough to know that a mother never should.
I was one of thousands who lined the road to say thank you, and goodbye, to another young soldier, Nicholas Taylor. He was due to come home in less than two months.
I never met Nicholas, either. But, seeing his picture and watching his family on the news made it sink in that this was the age of my uncle when he died. For the first time, I realize that 20 is still so young, especially to a mother.
I wish that I had had more wisdom to understand my grandmothers grief. But I did not, for I was just a kid. As a child, Dennys death seemed so long ago, and I did not understand why it still affected my grandmother like it did. But now that I am a similar age as my grandparents were when Denny was killed, I understand a lot better. I have seen that, even after decades have passed, the pain from the loss can be just as sharp as the day it happened. I am more able to show the sympathy and understanding that mothers who have lost a soldier truly deserve.
I watched as Nicholas body was escorted from the airport to his home. He was deservedly treated like a hero. I held a sign that said, Thank You and waved American flags. I also took my nephew with me. He likes to play soldier and watch war movies. He wants to join the Army someday. I am not against that. But I wanted him to see that behind every war movie and war game are real men and women who do not come home alive. I want him to start to grasp what his freedom cost.
I want to say thank you to two soldiers I have never met. Dennis Cook, whom I am proud to call my uncle, and Nicholas Taylor, whom I am proud to call my fellow Hoosier. Thank you both for being willing to serve your country. Denny, you defended freedom for your nephew and for a generation of kids that you never met; and Nick, you, too, have defended freedom for a new generation of kids, whom you also will never meet. I give my heartfelt thank you to the both of you.
My grandmother has passed away and her grief is now fully given to Jesus, who bears all our grief. For Nicholas mom, I pray that the God of all comfort will comfort her with the peace which passes all understanding. My heart goes out to her for her loss.
On the way home with my nephew, we stopped by Dennys grave. I wanted to make sure my nephew knew the story of his great uncle and where he was laid to rest. After talking for a while, we took the flags we had waved in honor of Nicholas and placed them at Dennys grave. They are an enduring symbol, uniting two defenders of freedom whom I never got to meet.