Yesterday was an unexpected emotional day. The day before, Robert and I visited the American war cemetery and memorial. We had passed it many times on our way to Florence but never stopped. Like many parts of life, we don't always stop to hear the story.
But this time we did stop.
I did a painting and Robert walked around with Angel, the director of the park. Just as I was finishing, they walked up and Angel asked us if we would like to participate in the lowering of the flag. We were honored at this opportunity. The flag was brought down and we held it spread out. As we began to fold it, I remembered my junior high years and many things came back to me. I was one of the students to take the flag down at the end of day. My father explained the sanctity of this ceremony as best he could to a kid like I was. "This isn't like folding sheets off the line. There should be no joking around. You are holding the symbol of our country and the lives of the people who died for this privilege of freedom."
Like a lot of people of that generation, Dad never spoke of the war. I knew he was stationed for a while in Northern Africa with the ground crew maintaining airplanes. He lost a brother in the Battle of the Bulge. He had been to Rome. That was about it.
We decided to take our group to a surprise outing on our way to Florence yesterday. I called my brother, Joel, and asked him to go through my dads military papers back home and get some information to add to our presentation.
It turned out that he was in Northern Africa but what I didn't know was that he was also stationed in Italy: Naples, Arno, Foggia, and Rome and was a Corporal. He spent four years in the war. I also did not know he received the Bronze Star. My mother did not even know this information until yesterday as she was going through his papers. I can only speculate how the war changed him. Some of it was good like living in Italy and meeting soldiers from all over America. The life here is contagious and makes you want to bring a little home with you. Some of the change was hard. He lost his brother.
So now my connection to this place becomes personal. My own history is defined a little more.
We all had a great time with our fellow travelers here in Italy. It was a week long fest of food, art, history, and new fun experiences. Seeing this place of where so many soldiers were laid to rest made me appreciate the good things even more. Every soldier buried here has a story. I was honored and humbled by the story I discovered.