There are some things that seem to be part and parcel of who we are, of whom we become. Memorial Day is one for me.
This is the time I make a sentimental trip out Clinton Boulevard to pay respect to the brother-in-law I never had the privilege of knowing.
His name was Bobby Boggan, husband Willard’s younger brother. His plane had been shot down over Yokohama Harbor on May 24, 1945.
A few days ago when I took my every morning stroll around the Jackson Country Club with rescue dog Roo Roo, I saw several yards proudly displaying American flags. It’s just around the corner, I realized.
For some reason I felt a need to make my commemorative drive a day early this year.
I carried an American flag and a bouquet of artificial red, white and blue flowers to Lakewood Cemetery, threw the old flag and flower arrangement in a garbage bag and set a new flag and fresh plastic flowers in an urn on Bobby’s grave.
Without even being aware of it, as I have done so often, I found myself humming the Army Air Force song,
“Off we go, into the wild blue yonder, climbing high...”
On this day, at Lakewood, I stopped singing. I felt suspended, waiting. Was this the time, the moment, Bobby’s plane had been hit?
For some reason I thought of a couple of letters Bobby had sent home.
Then it was as if a voice from the past spoke to me.
“I kept a picture of my bride Flo, in my plane, so I could see and talk to her. As I piloted our plane across dangerous waters and enemy territory over and over, I told her how beautiful she was, how much I loved and miss her.”
I had never seen this letter, but had heard about it. Willard said his brother wanted to be with his wife forever. He hoped and prayed to make it home, to be with his wife and the baby they were having.
But, there was another letter, one I had read, that Bobby had written to his Jackson family a short time later, carrying a different tone and message. I would so love to find that letter. But it is missing, lost in some of the packing up, the moves and changes in our lives. I can’t remember the exact words, but most of them are still with me.
“Dear Family, I have a strong feeling, not a good one. My time is drawing near, I won’t make it home, I’ll never see my baby.
I’m not afraid to die, but I hate the thought of not being with you all. Not being able to raise my child.
Take care of yourself. I have faith this war will end in victory. Be strong and know this, my love is forever.
Filled with those memories I looked across the road and allowed myself to reminisce a moment.
“Oh, I only wish, Bobby,” I said, “that you had made it home. This is as close as we could get you.”
Bobby grew up on Clinton Boulevard; he used to ride his bike past Lakewood Cemetery. As a little boy he had a love affair with flying. When he grew up he became a pilot and went off to fight a war for his country, one that would save the world.
On May 24, three months before the end of the war, Bobby’s plane was hit. He and his crew members were buried in Tokyo.
Many years passed. A reburial was planned at Lakewood, Willard and his family felt it was best for them not to know the time or the date. It had been my honor and privilege to make all arrangements.
Months later, the day came. The casket was unloaded from an old truck with rattling wooden sides. The coffin was rusty, bits of old iron and dirt clung to it, but it was intact.
My grandmother, a preacher and I held a small memorial service. Walking away, I felt there needed to be something more. “Wait a minute,” I called to one of the nearby men leaning on a shovel. I kissed the rusty coffin. “That’s from me and the rest of the family.”
The man I spoke to answered me in a soft voice. “Mr. Bobby and I used to play together. I found out he was coming home. I asked to help dig his grave.”Tears flowing, he and I hugged each other.
“Thank you God,” I said today, as I have in the past. “He made it home.”
This is one soldier, one family, one war. There have been many other soldiers and families touched by war, and Memorial Day has been set aside to honor and remember them.
“Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.”
It was time for me to go home. I picked up the garbage sack holding the tattered flag and shredded flowers.
“Lest we forget.”