Veterans remind us what today’s holiday should really mean
Walter Zinn never got tired of telling it.
It was a war story.
The events described occurred on a sunny spring day in 1945.
His backyard was its battlefield.
Zinn was rangy, and even-tempered.
He had a slow smile and quick know-how of what those vacuum tubes glowing from the back of his family’s Crosley console radio actually did.
Finally, he was home from the fighting in the Pacific.
And finally, World War II was waning, at least on one hemisphere.
With everything going on with his war, he was just glad, relieved, to be home.
He already had two lifetimes of bullets, bombs and bloodshed in the Philippines and other island chains in the paradise under siege.
Don’t bother with the postcard.
Uncle Sam found a kid from a farm in Monongalia County and pointed him in the direction of the induction center.
Zinn was an 84-year-old retired TV repairman when he told his war story to The Dominion Post in 2005.
On the day of his war story, 75 years gone, his military uniform was laundered and at parade rest, on a hanger in a closet.
Pops was finally getting the house wired for electricity, and since his kid knew about circuitry and such, he was getting some assistance.
He would have helped, anyway.
When the mattock augured in a little more than it should have, the father and son stopped.
To look down.
The fallen, kept close
“It was a grave, by the corner of the house,” Zinn said.
He was able to determine two bodies.
Also present on both were tufts of gray — Confederate gray — in the threads miraculously clinging to crumbling bones.
Forensic fashion. What they were wearing on the day their war ended.
The Zinn property conformed to an expanse near the Taylor County line.
It was a House Divided, and the South had its own room in the county next door.
Zinn, the younger, knew even more about war than he did vacuum tubes.
He surmised a skirmish, with, well, at least two casualties.
“I’m sure they buried them right where they fell,” he said.
Sixty years had passed, from 1945 to 2005, and he was still marveling over what his dad did that day,
The sound of the soft tamp made by the shovel could have been a choir singing “Amazing Grace,” a son remembered.
Dislodged earth was gently delivered back in place, so two fallen boys from the Commonwealth could continue their rest.
The uniform, the elder Zinn said, no longer mattered.
Zinn, the younger, agreed.
After all, he said, the unlucky pair may have been as scared in the rolling, hostile hills of western Virginia — as he was in the lethal postcard of the South Pacific.
“It was a matter of respect.”
War is war
In Wilbur England’s personal lexicon, that word, “respect,” is underscored, in a bold-faced font.
“Honor,” and “sacrifice,” too.
Before the pandemic, you would often see England and his VFW brothers in the honor guard at Westover John L. Frazier Post 9916.
They were out across north-central West Virginia, shouldering their rifles and saluting the flag at gravesides and other gatherings of import.
His war was Vietnam. He served from 1967 to 1970.
Be it deliverance by the jungle or the desert, a cart trundling a coffin covered with an American flag onto the tarmac in Delaware still sounds a wrenching rattle of finality — like the chains of Marley’s ghost.
On this Memorial Day, the country is at war with COVID-19.
That means the honor guard of Post 9916 won’t present the colors and it won’t play Taps.
It won’t stand at attention, and all that applies.
Look for the flags in the cemeteries though, England said.
That’s this weekend.
“You’ll see us,” the old Navy man said.
Lest we forget
Maybe you wanted to go, England said.
Maybe you didn’t want to go, but you did anyway.
Maybe you were a patriot, or an adventurer, or both.
Whatever your motivations or circumstances, you went, the honor guard member said.
You wore the uniform, and sometimes you had to pay for it with your blood.
“We’re not gonna forget that,” England said.
“We can’t forget that.”