I remember the Memorial Day Parade of 2004 in my old hometown in northern New Jersey. Art, Dad and I were all set to build the float. It was the Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend. I remember this moment so very well. Dad and I were eating breakfast and the telephone rang. It was Art. He called to tell us that he was very ill and would not be able to help us build the float.
It was a tough time. Dad was fighting cancer. I remember telling him that I would do my best to build the float by myself if he also wasn’t feeling up to par. But Dad put his foot down and insisted on helping me build the float.
So, we gathered up the tools and supplies from Dad’s workbench in the basement and jumped into the pickup truck. I drove Dad the half-mile trek down to our little town’s historical museum, where we usually built the Memorial Day float.
I knew Dad was tired that day. I could tell that he was in pain. It showed in his eyes. I felt such a stirring compassion for my father. Knowing that Dad was in pain and was working so hard to help me build the float, ripped my heart apart.
It seemed that we hit one snag after another. I’m ashamed to admit this but at one point I suggested to Dad that maybe we should give up the idea of building a float for the parade. I knew Dad was in a lot of pain and I knew he needed rest. Dad simply said to me, “Richard, we’ll build the float. We can do it. We’ll do it for Uncle Earl.” Dad’s father’s brother, Earl, was killed in World War I.
There was one point where Dad and I were setting up the big billboard size, plywood sign that Art had painted. We were trying our best to get the big plywood sign to stand at 90 degrees onto the float. Time after time it fell down.
I remember this sacred moment as if it was yesterday. Dad held one of the main metal support bars and asked me to get the electric drill, which was on the ground near the float. As I grabbed the drill and a couple of bolts, I looked up at my father and saw the most sincere and earnest look that I’ve ever seen in a person’s eyes.
Dad was tired. He was in pain from the cancer. But he was determined to build the Memorial Day float. Something stirred deep in my soul. I just had to take Dad’s picture at that moment. I grabbed my camera that was setting right by our tools and took Dad’s picture. Despite my father’s protests, I’m glad that I had the presence of mind to take that picture. To me, it showed just how much my father honored and respected those who gave their lives to defend our country.
Neither of us knew it at the time, but that was to be the last Memorial Day float that Dad and I would ever build. My dad served in the Seventh Army Air Corps during World War II. He saw action and was placed in harm’s way. Some of his buddies didn’t make it home alive.
My dad never said anything about it that day, when he and I built our last Memorial Day float. But I think my dad fought his fatigue, fought the raging pain of cancer attacking his body, to honor his Uncle Earl and his Army Air Corps buddies who never returned home alive.
Love, peace and harmony,