Appalachia Holidays in Appalachia

Memorial Day Thoughts

To say the southern highlands of Appalachia have been rainy lately is an understatement. It seems it’s rained continuously for the past month-you know since the post where I stated fall here is typically dry? Not this year.

The Moving Wall has been in our town for the last week. I think it was back in June when Chitter first read about it’s impending arrival in our area. Ever since, she’s been counting the days. Soon after school started she came home tickled pink-she found out her class would be walking down to visit the wall once it arrived-thrilling to her-they’d get 2 class periods to learn about the wall, wander around, and ask questions.

Skip ahead to yesterday-the day for the visit to the wall. We awoke to the pounding thundering sound of rain on the roof. I tried to console her by saying they’ll probably just reschedule the trip for the following day-surely the rain would be gone by then. Determined to go to the wall-she made sure both her and Chatter dressed appropriately for rain-boots-jackets-umbrellas.

As we completed the carpool pick up and started our drive into town the rain was coming down so heavily I could barely see the road. The streets in town were flooded at several points. Once we arrived at school, I jumped out to help them gather their backpacks, lunchboxes, instrument and stand. In the amount of time it took them to get their grip and go-a pond of water accumulated on top of the raised trunk-of course it drowned me as I shut it.

Next stop-grocery shopping for me and Granny-the rain was still torrential. We shared the remaining umbrella to get into the store-since I always finish before Granny-I gave her the umbrella to keep and thought I’d buy a cheap one while I was shopping. I forgot. Not wanting to go back through the check out again-I braved the rain and unloaded my groceries. By the time we got back to Granny’s I was so wet I was cold. After I carried her groceries in, I headed home thinking of a hot shower and dry clothes.

Once my groceries were put up-I checked the machine. One message. From Chitter. The trip had been canceled due to rain-and the wall was leaving at lunch. Would I please come get her and take her to the wall? It was one of those mom dilemmas for sure- I was cold, tired, wet and did not want to go back into the soaked landscape plus I had a blue million things on my to do list. But she had been talking about the wall since June so I went.

Near the beginning of the wall we were struck by the mementos that were left to honor those who gave all. I realize the Vietnam War affected and touched folks from my area-I mean my Uncle Henry is a veteran of the war. But somehow the things folks left here in my home town electrified my knowledge that not only did the Vietnam War affect my friends and neighbors-it is still affecting them all these years later on a deeply personal level.

A lovely lady was a volunteer-she shared stories with us like:

All the cards stuck in the cracks were Ace of Spades left for fallen Marines. During the war Marines left behind the Ace of Spades as a type of calling card for the Viet Cong. Now-Marines leave the cards at the wall as a way of honoring their fallen comrades.

A photo of a soldier and his dog, along with the dog’s collar was left by a career soldier who just shipped out to serve again. The boy and dog in the photo-were his best friends in Vietnam-both were killed and he kept the collar all these years.

Perhaps the most moving moment for me happened as I looked at the paper above. It is a copy of the telegram Miles H. Nelson’s mother received notifying her of his death. As I bent over to read and photograph it-I noticed an elderly lady beside me-kinda hesitantly looking around. Thinking I was in her way I stood and stepped back a few feet. I soon realized she was trying to wipe the rain from a name to take a rubbing of it. I reached for her umbrella and held it for her. Her hands trembled and her pen wouldn’t work. I told her I had a pencil-she asked if I would do it for her. As I rubbed the name I realized it was the name from the telegram- Miles H. Nelson. As I handed her the rubbing I asked if he was her son or brother. As she began to cry, she said no, he was a boy she grew up with. A boy she knew all her life who went to war and didn’t come back home. While we both stood crying in the rain she shared her story with me. She came from a military background. Her father-n-law served in WWI, her husband served in Germany during WWII, and her son just recently retired after a career of service for his country. She said she thought folks probably thought she was silly for crying. I told her no I didn’t think so-I think most folks would thank her for supporting her family who served for us all.

I can honestly say visiting the wall was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had. Even if I hadn’t enjoyed it-the photo at the top of this post would have been payment enough for my trouble. The look of awe on her face-the look of total respect and gratitude is priceless.

When I look back over yesterday-it seems the rain wasn’t so bad after all.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in the Fall of 2009.

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  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    June 1, 2011 at 5:21 am

    “For Those Who Fought For It, Freedom Has A Flavor The Protected Will Never Know” ~~ POW-MIA bumper sticker
    To God alone be the glory that my husband survived TET 67-68 – CIB.
    And it is accurate that some are “not ready” to experience the Wall. And they may never be…, having said that, I am very thankful for the Wall –prayerfully it will always serve as a vivid reminder of such overwhelming loss and cost. The raw pain and questions are still in our hearts.

  • Reply
    Sherie Rowe
    May 30, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this again. I am a new reader and I was able to see the traveling wall year before last. Altough my father was in the reserves during Vietnam and did not go over there, I still have a special place in my heart for all military. My grandfather served on an aircraft carrier as a turret gunner in WWII in the Pacific. My great grandfather served in WWI, several assorted uncles, cousins, etc have or are serving. Tell Chitter we are proud of her decision. My oldest son is in the Navy after attending the United States Naval Academy. After placing a flag on his great-grandfather’s grave this weekend at the VA cemetary, he headed back to his base.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    May 30, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Beautiful post, Tipper. And what a great picture of your daughter!
    I’ve visited the Wall in DC and think that is one of the most amazing monuments ever — so personal!

  • Reply
    May 30, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    What a moving post! It brought me to tears. The momentos left at the wall are so poignant, so very human, it really brings our loss into sharp focus. God bless all who have or will serve our country. And kudos to you for raising such a brave and compassionate child! I hope all her dreams come true!

  • Reply
    May 30, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    The Wall is very touching and moving to visit. It was here in Ripley a few years ago, Charley and I volunteered to be helpers. There is someone there 24 hours of the day while on exhibit for those who want to visit it when it isn’t so crowded.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    May 29, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    Oh, Tipper. What a way you have with a story-

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Personally, I haven’t been able to do it. I can’t even see a painting or photograph of The Wall without crying.
    I think I’m afraid to go see it – afraid I’ll see the names of someone I served in the USMC with during the Vietnam Era or someone I went to school with before them – someone I once cared about.
    In truth, I don’t know if I’ll ever be “ready” to see it. It just represents so much sadness – sadness without hope.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Hello..I really enjoyed your touching story today (Sandra M.S.)told me about your post) so I came by to check it out-thanks!
    Wishing you a lovely week-

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Very, very nice!! I hope Chitter realizes her dreams. God bless!!

  • Reply
    Paul Certo
    May 29, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Thank you both for caring. I served in Vietnam in 1970-’71, at first with the First Cavalry Division, later with the 101st Airborne Division. The Wall can bring out tears from every one who sees it.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    May 29, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks for remembering and reposting “Memorial Day Thoughts”
    from last year….I could read it again and again and never tire of it….We have family members. brothers, husbands, and Uncles who made it back and were so blessed at that time…This post reminds us of just how blessed we were…Thanks again Tipper…

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I remember that tribute you did
    back in 2009 and the solemn look on Chitter’s face, and that some-
    day she was going to make that her
    career. That’s nice. Also, I thought that blog was very fitting
    on such a cold, dreary day. I’m so
    Thankful for our brave American
    Soldiers who give us this Freedom
    we enjoy today…Ken

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 11:53 am

    I hope I don’t make any of my buddies mad but, I hope that little brown eyed Patrick girl wins the Indianapolis 500 today!

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    May 29, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Beautiful story Tipper – and one worth retelling every Memorial Day. My son has volunteered with an organization called Bugles Across America since he was a middle school student sounding taps at Military Funerals and ceremonies. I am always moved when I hear him play those haunting notes. He will be part of our town Memorial Day ceremony later this afternoon. It is wonderful that our children respect the sacrifices made for the freedoms they enjoy.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 8:49 am

    You have that touch. Knowing how to “Say it” is a gift. By george, I think you have it! (to quote Rex Harrison).
    Your words have cause my memories to kick into overdrive. There was an old song (I think it was by The Kingston Trio) that a friend and I would hum many times on Memorial day. It was called “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” Around here we have always been so proud of our military people that we can get a little corny at times but, we have never been ashamed to wave the flag.
    There was an old song by Ernest Tubb called “Soldiers Last Letter”…bet you know this one. In it were these lines:
    “The captain just gave us our orders and Mom, we will carry them through.
    I’ll finish this letter the first chance I get but, now I’ll just say I love you.”
    That song was one of Momma and Granny’s favorites.
    Thanks Tipper for “The Dust of Snow.”

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 8:37 am

    This post touched me as much today as it did when it was originally posted.
    I hope all of Chitters plans come true and she can be a pilar of hope for those whose lives she touches.

  • Reply
    Benny Watt Terry
    May 29, 2011 at 8:09 am

    Chitter is what we want our young people to be; educated to respect our men and women who serve our country, motivated to serve our country, and knowing they will impart to their children the importance of doing both. God Bless all those young people who feel this way; God Bless our service men and women; and God Bless America.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Thanks for sharing the wonderful story. It sure grabs at your heart to think of all the lives wars has cost. We need to keep praying for all of our service men and women.

  • Reply
    Debby Brown
    May 29, 2011 at 7:42 am

    THAT, in all it’s simplicity, was a more fitting tribute than can be felt by watching a hundred parades down a hundred small town main streets. Thank you for sharing, Tipper.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2011 at 7:38 am

    it is hard to see to type since my eyes are full of tears, thank you for sharing your trip with us, the photos made me tear up the last part of the story made them roll down my cheeks. you made the right choice to go out in the rain. the photo of the boots is so heartbreaking as is he photo of your daughter at the wall.

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