My father, Fred Hart Jr., was a World War II veteran who died two months after my fourth birthday. He suffered from health issues that began while serving on active duty.
I have very few memories of him. The most vivid one is getting into the car one evening close to my bedtime and driving across the city. For a while, my older brother, Jack, and I played in the backseat. We were happy that we were being allowed to stay up a little later than usual. Then, I heard my dad tell my mom not to worry about parking but simply to pull off to the side of the road so that he could quickly get out of the car. He said that he would walk across the grassy field leading into the hospital.
As we drove away, I remember watching him walk away. I wished that I could do something so that he would not look so alone. But I could do nothing to rescue him. When he died a few weeks later, my family thought that I was too young to learn about death. In fact, I was not told that he had died or allowed to attend his funeral.
Recognizing Mourning and Love
It took me nearly two years to figure out what death meant. The awareness came while I was recovering from surgery to repair my broken arm. One afternoon, all three of the other children with whom I was sharing a hospital room were crying, and I also began to weep. When the nurse approached my bed and asked me where my pain was, I simply told her that I was sad because I realized that my father was never coming home again.
When I was eight years old, my mother decided that I would receive better care by living with my paternal grandparents: Ella and Fred Hart.
I always had a very close bond with my father’s mother, and it was one of the happiest days of my life when my stepfather drove several hours to drop me off at her home. For the next ten years, I grew up under her watchful and loving care.
Yearly Remembrance Visits to the Cemetery
One tradition that Grandma Hart taught me was to take time on May 30th each year to go to the cemetery. We would prepare by picking flowers in her garden to be placed at my father’s headstone. I was invited to choose flowers or greenery that I thought were attractive and fill a jar with water. My grandfather was usually not physically or mentally able to come with us, so just my grandmother and I would drive out to the cemetery.
We would park in the section where veterans were buried and walk to my father’s grave. Together we would remove any withered flowers, which I ran to the garbage. I would watch my grandmother carefully arrange and water a fresh set of flowers.
Next, we would quietly stand and observe the Memorial Day Services, culminating with the firing of a 21-gun salute. Then, I was allowed to play with other youth.
Year after year this same ritual was repeated. My grandmother seldom spoke. It is not just old soldiers who often have trouble speaking about their war experiences. Mothers may find it traumatic to talk about the death of a son.
What I remember are her hands tenderly picking flowers and placing them at his headstone. What I remember most are her eyes. With tender, loving looks she watched over and cared for his gravesite. I never saw her cry, but her silent gazes eventually taught me sincere reverence and respectful remembrance.
Love of Freedom, Safety, and Peace
Partly because of my father’s example of military service, both my brother and I also enlisted in the armed forces. My brother is a Viet Nam War veteran. The year I received my commission as a military officer, the Viet Nam War was ending, and I was allowed to complete my eight-year military obligation as a member of the Reserves. Both my brother and I believed that we should be willing to sacrifice our lives “for the glory of [our] God, and the freedom and welfare of [our] country” (Alma 60:36).
Our basic military training helped us also gain greater insights about our father. Like him we learned to think and organize our lives in army ways. From the “failing hands” of previous brave dead soldiers, we continue to try to take “The torch … to hold it high” (John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields,” Punch, Dec. 8, 1915). Those living owe it to those who can no longer speak to remember their stories and defend their ideals.
Praying for Christ’s Promised Peace of Remembrance
As I have had the opportunity of living in Canada for most of my married life and attending Remembrance Day Services each November 11, I am filled with awe and respect. I reverently add my thoughts to this oft repeated stanza from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen”: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; / Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. / At the going down of the sun and in the morning / We will remember them” (The Times, Sept. 21, 1914; italics added). Those words help remind me of those who have died in defending their country’s ideals and freedoms.
Often, though, the most important part of the Remembrance Day ceremony for me is the two-minute silence. During those wordless moments, we simply stand and quietly ponder the sacrifices of both dead and living soldiers and peacekeepers. After 10 years of reverently attending my father’s gravesite, my Grandma Hart’s exemplary silence has taught me that words are not always needed to show authentic love and remembrance.
Concerning the blessings of spiritual remembrance, President Henry B. Eyring has explained: “Remembering may be one of the most precious gifts the Spirit can give you. He will ‘bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever [the Lord has] said unto you’ (John 14:26) … Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost will have a sanctifying and purifying effect on your spirit. You will then feel the peace the Savior promised to leave with His disciples. With that peace will come a bright hope and a feeling of light and love from the Father and His Beloved Son” (“My Peace I Leave with You,” Ensign, May 2017).
Because of Jesus Christ’s great atoning sacrifice, I live with the hope that I will one day be with my father, mother, grandparents, and other ancestors again.