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A daughter's Memorial Day tribute

On Memorial Day a decade ago, I found my long-lost father after a lifetime of thoughts of him.

My husband traipsed ahead of me under the Hawaiian sky, his eyes scanning for the one grave marker we sought in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.

I had come to find my father, who lost his life on Okinawa during World War II when I was 2 years old.

"I found it!" I heard my husband call, standing midway through Section Q. I slowly crossed the grassy lanes between markers, engulfed in contradictory emotions: joy and sadness, anxiety and reluctance, and an underlying sense that something significant was about to happen.

I could finally say goodbye to my father.

I knelt at the grave and scraped the grass cuttings from around the edges in order to read the dates: January 22, 1920 — June 10, 1945.

I was now more than twice my father's age when he died. If we could have communicated through the crust of earth that divided us, I would have told him how much had happened in the last half of the century.

Could he possibly have imagined the world in which his only child had grown to adulthood, with commercial jets, computers, cell phones, smart phones and e-mail?

I wanted him to know that his widow had remarried many years ago and that he was a grandfather.

It was his daughter who now could teach him some of the lessons of life that come later on — the small bits of wisdom we first begin to glean in the middle years he never reached.

I imagined my father's final moments on Okinawa and the final moments of those who died at Pearl Harbor. Numerous markers inscribed "Unknown. December 7, 1941" dotted the section where my father was buried. I felt a sense of gratitude that my father had been identified and I could make this trip to Hawaii to sit quietly by his grave.

To his left lies a 23-year-old nurse, to his right a 19-year-old Marine, both also casualties of World War II. Row after row of unfinished lives unspooled before us as we walked. Nineteen, 20- and 21-year-olds abounded. They had barely begun to live. My father, at 25, had been granted more of life than they had.

I have no memories of my father, but I have learned about him from others — his capacity to work hard, his love of life and his bravery in war.

His framed Purple Heart hangs in our home, a daily reminder of a father I wish I had gotten to know.

Elaine Markowitz is a correspondent for the St. Petersburg Times.

A daughter's Memorial Day tribute 05/27/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 27, 2011 7:29pm]
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