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Wishing I had asked more questions

As another Memorial Day rolled around Monday, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts held Lincoln County’s annual remembrance ceremony at the government complex.

A particularly emotional moment during Monday’s program was the reading of the names of the nearly 100 fallen men and women from Lincoln County who gave their lives serving America from World War I to the Vietnam War.

Balanced with Memorial Day in May, which honors service men and women who gave their lives to their country, Veterans Day in November recognizes all of those who have been members of the armed forces.

While today’s military service is totally voluntary, I can remember a time when registering for the selective service draft was a mandatory rite of passage for young men.

As a member of the Vietnam generation, I also can remember growing up seeing war in my living room every night.

Those were times rife with controversy, as some Americans protested against our nation’s involvement in Vietnam while others dutifully shed their blood fighting there.

Things were different when my father served his country a few decades earlier.

A member of The Greatest Generation, Daddy didn’t have to hear about Hanoi Jane or demonstrations while he was fighting in the Pacific Theater of World War II. In that less media-driven time, the nation seemed to rally as one behind its GI Joes and Janes.

What I know of World War II I’ve learned from documentaries, history books and movies like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. I didn’t hear about it from my father.

When he talked about his time in the service at all, it was about his R&R in Australia, a place he spoke of with fond remembrance. And unlike most Americans, the people in Sydney just naturally seemed to be able to pronounce Eide correctly, according to Daddy.

When my father passed away to lung cancer (he was a heavy smoker), I spent time with my mother going through our family home, sorting out things she would take with her on her move to live with my sister in Hernando, choosing what would be divided among my sisters and me and what would be given away or discarded.

In our guest room closet hung scores of bagged uniform coats, pants and hats. Inside the jackets were neatly sewn labels carrying the name of a tailor in Sydney.

As a captain, Daddy could have his dress uniforms custom made. I recalled hearing one of our neighbors, Alice Clarke, tell me once what a dashing figure my father made as he arrived in Mississippi fresh from the war and still in uniform with a check in hand ready to buy our farm from her father.

To me he never was that soldier though. Instead he was the sunburned farmer who fell asleep on his recliner every night because he got up at 3 each morning to milk our cows.

He was the daddy who taught me how to fish and how to tie my shoes and who once gave me a microscope for Christmas, although I hadn’t asked for one. And who, even though it wasn’t a gift-giving occasion at all, brought home a pony for me when I was eight years old.

Daddy died when I was only 26, and I wasn’t expecting to miss the opportunity to learn more about his war experiences.

Now I wish I’d asked more questions when I could.

Rachel Eide is editor/general manager of The Daily Leader. Contact her at rachel.eide@dailyleader.com.