On a warm spring day in 1945, the young mother of a tiny toddler received the phone call that many women of her generation dreaded above all. She politely thanked the officer before she hung up the phone and sank to the floor in despair. A kamikaze fighter had cartwheeled across the deck of the USS Hancock aircraft carrier, and its bomb exploded, destroying, among many other things, the office where her husband — her sailor — had been serving his nation as a radar specialist.
Details of those ensuing hours of her life are lost to record and memory. One can imagine the outpouring of love and support from her family and friends as word quickly spread.
And then came another unexpected phone call. In a swirl of emotion ranging from disbelief to relief, she immediately recognized the voice as that of her husband telling her that he was back in the States and coming home!
In a tale of confusion that so often laces the stories of war, her husband had received his orders for his trip home. Just a few hours before that fateful attack on the USS Hancock, he was safely in the air, making his way from base to base, and when the attack occurred, he was accidentally reported killed in the melee.
In gratitude, I recognize in these events that my life is a gift that has come at a very real price; for that dear couple, newly reunited, would have a daughter four years after the war. They named her Jan, and she is my mother. Further, there is a radar specialist, a sailor who is nameless to me, and who did perish that day. I feel humbled by and grateful for his enduring sacrifice.
My grandfather lived a good, long life and passed away while I was serving in the mission field. Last fall in Hawaii, I felt very close to him as I was able to visit the Punch Bowl, a military cemetery, not far from where the USS Arizona rests and the USS Missouri is moored at Pearl Harbor. There is a giant, white marble monument there, etched with the names of those service men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Pacific theater and whose bodies were never recovered. This picture is particularly meaningful to me because had my grandfather remained on duty that day, his name could very well have been etched there, right after Seaman 2nd Class James D Meek — and, I wouldn’t have been there to take the picture.
I often find myself thinking about my grandparents as my heart, in a very real sense, turns to them, particularly on Memorial Day. In parallel comes the thought of another day, long ago, when words were etched on cloth and hoisted high as the Title of Liberty: “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.”
“In memory of….” In memoriam. Those we remember we honor. That which we remember, we don’t take for granted. May we be found this Memorial Day standing united in memoriam as we pause to ponder the lives of our loved ones who have gone before; our freedoms that are provided for us at so costly a sacrifice; and our God, whose hands purposely retain the marks to remind us that he always remembers us.
Jeromy Hall of Lehi, Utah, is a father of four, who contributes quarterly to the bishopric message of his ward's newsletter.