Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Morning Thanks--Memorial Day crosses and stars

Let me guess, because I have no way of knowing. 

I found this cross in an American war dead cemetery far south in the Netherlands. Van Ooyen is no relative, not even a particularly familiar name; but I'm guessing the kid was from somewhere around Pella, which suggests that maybe a century before he was killed--somewhere on his way to Berlin--some of his ancestors left Holland with Dominie Scholte, when that Leiden intellectual took off for the prairies of Iowa, a significant flock of followers in tow, pious folks all.

Sgt. John Van Ooyen may well have died someplace not all that far from neighborhoods his ancestors left. Something took him down in March of 1945--a bullet maybe, a grenade, maybe a blast from a tank. All the marker tells us is his rank, his company, his Dutch name, and the plain and simple fact that he's one of 8000 war dead commemorated here, even though his mortal coil may well be somewhere back home in central Iowa.

It's stunning to stand amid all those white crosses and realize that what's there--row after row after row after row--is a decimal point to the many thousands of others who also never came back to Pella or Brooklyn or San Bernadino, 416 thousand total.

For what? For freedom. For righteousness. For peace. For an end to a madman's dreams of world dominance and the insane slaughter of millions the Nazis judged not good enough for the master race.

Still, stand in a Allied graveyard sometime, and you can't help but note at least something of the cost of war.

And then there's this. Look closely.

There beyond his cross, just a three or so back in the row to the right, stands a marker with a star of David--a grave of a Jewish guy.

I wonder if this Dutch-American kid from Iowa ever considered his dying was for a New York Jew too. I wonder whether that thought was in his head when he enlisted or was drafted. I wonder if it was something a nice good kid from the Tall Corn State ever thought about at all.

When I visited the cemetery, when I stopped and paid my respects to someone named John Van Ooyen and thanked him for what he gave up for me and my kids and my grandkids, I couldn't help but notice the grave marker of a Jewish guy named Rudolph Nadel, a New Yorker, who died just two months later and is thoughtfully remembered just a couple of yards down the row.

Maybe they knew each other.

Maybe not.

Doesn't matter, really. Jew and Gentile, New Yorker and wooden shoe Iowan, they both gave us what we have. They died for for a ton of reasons--and I'm one of them.

So are you.

This Memorial Day morning, I'm thankful for both of them, all of them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good thought! I agree! GK