(Reposted and updated from previous years)
This is a story about a man I never knew, who was an important part of my life.
I actually don’t know very much about this man. I do know that his last name was “Self,” and he was a soldier in the U.S. 42nd Infantry (aka the “Rainbow Division“) from Texas. He enlisted and fought alongside his best childhood friend, in France, in WWI. He was shot and killed on the battlefield, but he didn’t die alone. His best friend was there with him when he died. His best friend was my grandfather.
Grandpa survived the Great War, and was in France on what later became known as Armistice Day. He returned from the war, to help take care of his sisters. Their parents had died when they were young, and he had become the man of the household at a young age. They crossed the Red River from Texas into Oklahoma in a covered wagon, in the 1920′s. At different times in his life, Grandpa was a rancher, and cotton farmer, and oilfield worker.
At age 34, he married a 17 year old girl who was running away from home. They rode out the Depression together in Oklahoma while many of their relatives headed for the hills in California. When asked about the age difference, he explained he did this so that he would have someone to take care of him when he got old, and she did a good job of that. They were married 62 years, and he died six weeks after her. They had one daughter and two grandchildren.
The two battle wounds that never healed for Grandpa were the nerve damage he suffered after having been exposed to mustard gas, and his memory of his best friend, whom he always referred to as “Self.” In his 90s, after Grandpa has lost most of his vision and began to spend a lot of time sitting in his recliner, we would sometimes hear him thinking aloud. We couldn’t always understand everything that he was saying, but when we heard him say the name, “Self,” we knew who was on his mind.
Grandpa’s friend, Self, sacrificed his opportunity to have a wife and children, but the sacrifice he made in service to his Country is an important part of our nation’s history, and also an important part of our family history which must not be forgotten.
This Memorial Day, in-between all of the family get-togethers, picnics, and BBQ’s, be sure to take time to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
The artwork above is an abstraction I created of the US flag with a grave marker in front that is similar in shape to those in most National cemeteries. The writing on the stone is Morse Code, and is the common abbreviation in Morse Code for “Thank You.”
The History Channel has a good video on the history of Memorial Day: