Staff Columnist

Respect begets respect

A soldier salutes during ceremonies on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 11, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
A soldier salutes during ceremonies on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 11, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

My mother spent the months leading up to Memorial Day and Veterans Day gathering silk flowers and creating floral arrangements.

When the holidays rolled around, the arrangements were packed in the bed of the truck, I was pushed into the middle of the cab, and the three of us — mom, dad and me — would spend the better part of the day driving around to cemeteries across several counties and placing the flowers on graves.

Except adding new stops, it was the same route our family drove for years; my older brothers and sisters occupying the same space as me until they aged out of the remembrance system.

What I’d like to write is how much I loved those trips from the beginning. I didn’t. Understanding and respect for what my parents did came with time. But, even in my most eye-rolling teen years, I knew not to complain or try to get out of going.

Of all the guilt I feel in leaving behind my rural upbringing and moving several states north, the worst hits me on these two dates because distance prevents me from carrying the tradition forward. And I’m left to wonder if the still too fresh graves of my parents, next to the grave of my brother who gave his life in Vietnam, are decorated.

It was within this conflicting backdrop of personal experience I viewed President Donald Trump’s recent refusal to gather with world leaders in France and honor the dead on the 100th anniversary of armistice.

Of all the pettiness shown by this President — and there has been more than worth counting — his inability to suffer the rain for the few hours it would take to honor our nation’s and the international community’s fallen is exceptionally disgraceful. It was a slap in the face of the joint military forces who served in both world wars. And an insult to the men and women who, year in and out, caretake the graves of American soldiers on foreign soil.

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Rain was also blamed for Trump’s refusal to travel to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial, located about 60 miles northeast of Paris and next to Belleau Wood, the site of a WWI battle in which more than 1,800 U.S. soldiers lost their lives, and a place where more than 2,000 are buried. The White House reported that inclement weather kept Trump’s helicopter grounded. There was no word why the President couldn’t join the motorcade that carried Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, to the cemetery.

Back in the states for Veterans Day, our President didn’t visit Arlington National Cemetery or attend any number observances. He instead holed up inside the White House and tweeted. I’ve often wondered how this President, who said he prefers war heroes who weren’t captured, thinks about the life my brother gave for our country. Through words and deeds, I’m quite sure I now have an answer.

In an opinion piece, Vice President Mike Pence reminded the nation that “it is written that ‘if you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect.’”

It’s advice that I, for one, will purposefully follow.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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