A Thanksgiving salute: A moment to remember America's heroes ... and their families

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Brian Stives
  • 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office
Thanksgiving is a time of celebration, a time to have lots of good-natured fun, share stories and hugs, a time to look past matters of money, investing and retirement plans.

Thanksgiving is about family - loved ones, grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, and children and grandchildren giggling. It's a time to give thanks by sharing gifts, tears and laughter.

But before all the fun begins, let's take a moment to honor all of America's heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for you and me, for all their children, siblings, parents, grandparents and friends who are left with fond memories as they sit near an empty chair at their table this Thanksgiving.

One story captures this moment better than anything I could ever say. I choke up every time I think about it. This story's for the families of every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine who ever fought to protect our freedoms. The story honors all their sacrifices. It goes to the heart of what Thanksgiving is really about, especially at this unique moment in America's history.

A simple story
Here's the story as my grandfather told it:

Two retired Soldiers were a bit overweight and had some creaking in their hips, but they still wore their dress uniforms when they were assigned to take charge of the Army cemetery at Fort Bliss, Texas. 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.

"I thought, oh gee, here goes another 15 minutes before we can lock up," my grandfather said.

As she pulled her car into the curb, she got out slowly 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?" She had five little bouquets of flowers. "I move a little slow these days," she said. Then she asked, "Son, where were you stationed?"

"Chief warrant officer stationed at Bradford, Penn., during World War II," I said.

She looked at me more closely. "Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Soldier! I'll be as quick as I can."

"No hurry, ma'am," I lied. She smiled and said, "I'm 85 years old, I can tell a lie when I see it. My name is Joanne Wiseman, and I've met a few Soldiers. I'd like to see some of 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, USA 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, USA 1943.

Then she went further in the same row and laid another bunch of flowers on a stone with the name Stanley J. Wiseman, USA 1944. Wiseman. That was her name! She paused for a second, and 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 a while." She headed down the walk, stopped at a couple of stones, and then she found the ones she wanted and there she placed a small bouquet of flowers at the stone of Larry Wiseman, USA 1968 (that's her name, too). Near it, she placed the last cluster of flowers on a stone with the name Darryl Wiseman, USA 1970. She murmured a few words I couldn't hear. "Okay, 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 Soldiers."

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 Soldier 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.

A thank-you
That's the story as my grandfather told it. Our thanks to all the Wiseman's ... and Smith's ... and Jones' ... and all the other families out there today on this special Thanksgiving, as they sit next to an empty chair honoring their Donald, Stephen, Stanley, Larry, Darryl and thousands of others who sacrificed so much for our freedom. We salute all of you.