For a few moments this weekend, leave the table, the laughter, the sharing, the games: Here’s a special Thanksgiving story for you to ponder.
Giving thanks, noting the high price of freedom
For a few moments this weekend, leave the table, the laughter, the sharing, the games. Here’s a special Thanksgiving story for you, one Robert Schuller passed on to us from his Sunday “Hour of Power” ministry at the Crystal Cathedral more than a decade ago. I found it tucked in an old file.
This story of a Gold Star Mother still makes this Marine veteran choke up every time, makes me grateful I’m alive, free, an American. You feel the American spirit of Thanksgiving at its finest in Schuller’s narrative:
“Two retired United States Marines were a bit overweight and now had some creaking in their hips, but they still wore their dress uniforms when they were assigned to take charge of the USMC cemetery. This day they couldn’t wait for the day to end. They were ready to close the front gate when they saw a large old Cadillac drive up with an old woman behind the wheel. This is what my friend writes: ‘I thought, Oh gee, here goes another 15 minutes before we can lock up.’
“As she pulled her car into the curb, she got slowly out and said, ‘Son.’ I said, ‘Ma’am, can I help you?’
“She took a long time to answer. ‘Yes, can you help me carry some of these flowers?’ And she had five little bouquets of flowers. She said, ‘I move a little slow these days.’ Then she asked, ‘Son, where were you stationed?’
“I said, ‘Vietnam, ma’am, ground pounder. ‘69 to ‘71.’ She looked at me closer. ‘Wounded in action, I see. Well done! Marine. I’ll be as quick as I can.’
“I lied. ‘No hurry, ma’am.’ She smiled and winked at me and said, ‘I’m 85 years old. I can tell a lie when I see it. My name is Joanne Wieserman, and I met a few Marines, and I’d like to see them one more time.’
“ ‘Yes, ma’am, at your service.’ She knew exactly where she wanted to go. She headed for the World War I section, then, stopping at a stone, she picked one of the bunches of flowers out of my arms, laid it on top of the stone and murmured something I couldn’t hear. But then I read the name on the marble: Donald S. Davidson, USMC France, 1918.
“Then she turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section. Stopping at one stone, I saw a tear roll down her check. She put more flowers on the stone with the name Steven X. Davidson, USMC 1943.
“Then she went further in the same row and laid another bunch of flowers on a stone with the name Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC 1944. Wieserman, that was her name! She paused for a second then said, ‘Two more, son, and we’ll be done and you can go home.’
“I didn’t say anything but ‘Yes, ma’am, take your time.’ Then she looked confused, ‘Where is the Vietnam section? Son, I seem to have lost my way.’ So I pointed, ‘That way, ma’am.’
“ ‘Oh,’ she chuckled quietly, ‘me and my age don’t get along too well once in awhile.’ And she headed down the walk, stopped at a couple of stones, then she found the ones she wanted and there she placed a small bouquet of flowers at the stone of Larry Wieserman, USMC 1968 (that’s her name too). And then near it, she placed the last cluster of flowers on a stone with the name Darryl Wieserman, USMC 1970. She murmured a few words that I couldn’t hear. ‘OK, son, all finished. Just get me back to my car and you can go home.’
“ ‘Yes, ma’am. If I may ask, were these your kinfolk?’ She paused, ‘Yes. Donald Davidson, 1917, France, was my father. Stephen Davidson was my bother. And Stanley, you recognized the name, it’s my name, he was my husband. And Larry and Darryl were our sons. All were killed in action! All were Marines.’
“She didn’t say anything more as she kept walking to her car, opened the door, then closed it quietly. I watched. I waited, then as her car began to leave I quickly rushed to Kevin, my overweight Marine Corps buddy in his dress uniform. I ordered, ‘Get to the front gate! Quick. Take the service road. We need to get to the front gate before her. We have got something we must do. So just do what I do. Don’t ask any questions.’
“Kevin could see I was very urgent so we rushed ahead and got to the front gate before her car rounded the cemetery drive and aimed for the front gate. Kevin stood at his post, and I stood at mine. As the car came slowly to the gate, I shouted: ‘Attention! Post arms!’ We both saluted, and, as she drove through, I thought I saw her salute us back.
“Duty, honor, service. None of those whose graves she visited had given more than she did!”
The high price paid for our American freedoms
My thanks to Schuller for reminding us of the price so many have paid for the freedoms shared by all of us on Thanksgiving and every day in our great nation. The price of freedom is high, and going higher: All told, nearly 50 million have served in the military since 1776:
- Since the Revolutionary War, total American war deaths have exceeded 1,325,000, with another 1,532,000 wounded.
- Civil War: 437,412 were killed and 338,226 wounded on both sides.
- World War I: There were 116,516 deaths and 204,002 wounded.
- World War II saw 405,399 American deaths and 670,846 wounded.
- Korean War: 36,516 deaths and 92,134 wounded.
- Vietnam War: 58,209 deaths with 153,303 wounded.
- Iraq-Afghan wars: 6,518 deaths and 41,936 wounded so far.
And for every casualty, so many family and friends are left behind, to mourn, to grieve, to pray, like Joanne Wieserman, carrying flowers to grave sites throughout America on Thanksgiving and so many other holidays. Left carrying memories of loves lost every day, every year, for a lifetime.
This Thanksgiving, here’s one more Marine saluting all of you for giving so much, above and beyond the call of duty.2 views