The Unknown Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine

November 10, 2016 by Claire Coleman

For the longest time when I thought of veterans, I thought of my dad, his brother, my father-in-law, and their friends. Men of “that” generation who fought in World War II, the ones who still inspire books and movies. Last October while in France, I toured the D-Day beaches of Normandy and the stark sacredness of the American cemetery there. My iPhone pictures don’t capture the width and length of the beaches where 160,000 Allied forces stormed across the sand as the Germans rained lead from the high ground, or the height of the cliffs scaled by Army Rangers at Pointe du Hoc.
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Recently, my brother, my nephew and a close family friend all wore their uniforms to my son’s wedding. My brother, a retired Navy captain, served in Vietnam, during the Gulf War and in the Naval Command Center at the Pentagon. He was not on duty on September 11 but the man who sat in his chair was, and died that day when the hijacked plane slammed into the building. A reservist at the time, he was called into service immediately. I will never forget his call to me that day, “I won’t be able to contact you.”
My nephew, an Army Engineer, served in Iraq and was there when his first son was born. Hunting for IEDs in a heavily armored vehicle was one of his responsibilities. I felt as though I held my breath the entire time he was gone.
The family friend, a lieutenant in the Navy, was deployed in the South China Sea for six months last year, missing birthdays, holidays, spring, summer and part of fall. He continues in his service to our country.

If they had not been in uniform they would have been part of that vast group of citizens who served or are serving without being noticed. I think there are more around us then we know. The woman manning the books where I voted on Tuesday told me she was a vet. I would have never known or been to thank her for her service. It made me think of one grave marker in France.
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The unknown soldier.
Some unknown soldiers have monuments. Some are long gone and are part of history because of where and when they fought.
Some walk among us. All stand between us and our nation’s security.
Today, keep all veterans and those who currently serve in our armed forces in your prayers.

A Penny for My Thoughts

June 23, 2016 by Claire Coleman

Yesterday after lunch with a friend I walked into a few shops in town. “Just looking, thank you” was my answer to each and every eager salesperson. I meandered through a new home furnishings shop. A few things caught my eye but nothing gave me pause until I neared the exit and spotted something familiar on a shelf. It was a lucite cube about 2 1/2″ square with shiny pennies floating in it. It seemed out of place, a bit “kitschy” for a shop of overstuffed and oversized pillows, French sideboards, modern paintings and neutral toned furniture. This paperweight could have been a thrift shop find. But it was the only thing that stuck a nerve.
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My step-father had the exact same one. It sat on his desk for years and the suspension of the pennies fascinated the grandchildren. They would examine it from all sides, squint their eyes into it and try to figure out the mystery of the pennies being cemented into clear nothingness. One of my sons has it today, a reminder of man dear to our hearts. The fact that today would have been his 105th birthday was not lost on me. A hello from the other side? That’s the way I took it. “Hello, back to you, Frank, ” I said to myself.

Frank came into my mother’s life about a year after his wife’s death and twelve years after my father’s. He and wife had raised three sons, we were a family of three girls and one boy. They were married at a time when our family was expanding with in-laws and babies; the transition was seamless. He was a man of exceptional intelligence but humble about his accomplishments. He was raised in a family of very modest means but one that stressed faith and a fierce work ethic. Exempt from military service during WWII as the sole support of a wife and young son, he worked for Grumman Aircraft on Long Island, and successfully designed a plane. He put himself through night school at Cooper Union while working during the day. He was a brilliant engineer, a man widely read and widely traveled. He had grandchildren of his own but embraced the ones on our side as if we shared DNA. He attended christenings, Little League games, and Christmas dinner with the same joyful enthusiasm. He went to a Giants game one frigid Sunday with my husband and sons and never complained about the single digit wind chill which felled many a fan decades his junior.

Frank and my mother shared a chapter in their lives neither one ever dreamed would have been written for them. He passed away after a brief illness barely a month after their tenth anniversary. It’s been twenty years since he died. When his name is mentioned either among family or friends, I have notice that people say the same thing, “What a great guy!”

I smiled when I saw the paperweight. It made me think about that great guy, enough to write about him and express my gratitude for the blessing of having known him.