Finding My Father’s Legacy on Memorial Day

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Finding My Father’s Legacy on Memorial Day
by Lauren Branch

Memorial Day is a time for reflection and gratitude, a day to honor the brave souls who sacrificed their lives for our nation’s freedom. For many, it’s a day of remembrance and national pride, but for me, it’s also profoundly personal. Fifty five years ago this year, when I was just five, my father’s plane was shot down in Vietnam. He and several crew members were never found. Though we were informed about where his plane went down and that he was gone, formal closure never came.

Growing up, our family’s life was a blend of joy and an unspoken void. My mother embodied resilience and strength, raising us alone with unwavering dedication. She never dated or remarried, channeling her energy into giving us a happy home despite the shadow of our father’s absence. Yet, her silence about him meant my brothers and I grew up not fully understanding who we were or the man who was our father.

This began to change about thirteen years ago when I accidentally connected with two veterans who had served with my dad. One was his bunkmate, the last person to see him before he went missing, and the other was his in-country flight check-out officer. Meeting them in Washington, D.C. was a transformative experience. Bob, my dad’s bunkmate, brought a scrapbook filled with pictures and stories from their time in Vietnam. For the first time, I learned something about who my father truly was: a funny, kind man who sang in the Air Force chorale.

These veterans shared anecdotes and memories that painted a vivid picture of my dad. I discovered his sense of humor, his kindness, and his musical talent—traits that had been mere whispers in my childhood home. Through their stories, I felt a connection to my father that had been missing for decades. Their gift of remembrance was invaluable, filling gaps in my identity and helping me understand the legacy my dad left behind.

As I reflect on my father’s bravery, I see how it has subtly shaped my life. His courage, though unseen, has been a guiding force in my decisions and actions. I strive to live in a way that honors his sacrifice, seeking to embody the same strength and resilience my mother displayed.

Memorial Day now holds an even deeper significance for me. It’s not just a day to honor those who have fallen, but also a day to celebrate the lives they lived and the impact they continue to have on us. My father’s story, once shrouded in silence, is now a source of strength and inspiration. The bravery he exhibited has become a part of who I am, fueling my determination and guiding my path.

As we commemorate Memorial Day, let us remember the personal stories behind the sacrifices. Each name etched in stone represents a life lived, a family affected, and a legacy that endures. For my family, and for many others, this day is a poignant reminder of the cost of freedom and the enduring spirit of those we have lost.

In honoring my father and all the brave souls who never returned, I find solace and strength. Their stories live on in us, inspiring us to live with purpose and courage. This Memorial Day, I remember my father not just as a fallen hero, but as a man whose life and legacy continue to guide and inspire me every day.

6 Comments for : Finding My Father’s Legacy on Memorial Day
    • Paul Moore
    • May 27, 2024

    Lauren, thank you for sharing these insights. What a perfect reminder for this sacred day. I know your Dad lives on through your service to others.

    • Dick Hefton
    • May 27, 2024

    If I only had the words of appreciation and respect for your father and the brave acceptance of your loss!

    • JAMES ( JIM ) Farha
    • May 27, 2024

    Lauren, a beautiful and heartfelt message. As a veteran of Vietnam who returned safely, I am sure there are many, many survivors such as you. I personally knew 8 who were killed. Several years ago I took our children to Washington DC and gave them the assignment of looking up the names of 3 men on my Team who did not return and to find their names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall and make an etching. May your father’s memory be eternal as well as the 58,479 others who did not return.

    • Ronald Page
    • May 27, 2024

    Lauren, this is really a powerful reminder of what this day is all about. Very well written.

    Here’s a sort of serendipity kind of thing:
    You said you dad sang in the chorale – — In 1958, not too many years after World War II and when many villages in Europe still had much visible damage, I toured Europe with the University of Illinois Varsity Men’s Glee Club. While in Luxembourg, we arranged to have a marker located in the American Memorial Cemetery. The marker was of the father of two fellow Glee Club members. Of course, this was the first time the boy’s had seen their father’s grave and we gathered among the hundreds, maybe thousands of markers and sang. We were a 65 man acapella group, so singing unaccompanied was our thing and, to me, it was the best we every sounded, even as tears seeped out around our eyes.
    I’m getting a little teary right now, wishing I could hear your dad’s chorus, and trying to imagine what and where they sang.

    • Peggy Jean Kates
    • May 27, 2024

    Excellent Article!

    • Ashley Howard
    • May 28, 2024

    Thank you for sharing this piece of you with all of us. Your father would be so proud of the force for good you have become.

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