The following is a reprise of a post from last year’s Memorial Day. I can’t think of better way to use this space than to remember family who’ve sacrificed for the sake of our country.
As I think about Memorial Day, I contemplated the connection with family members who’ve been in the military. Like you, I’ve been touched by everyday leaders in my family and in my extended network who’ve spent time in the service. Although my own direct connections to the military didn’t endure combat, they gave years of their lives in service to our country nonetheless. I wanted to honor Christopher Boomgaard and Harold Asmus on this day.
Christopher J. Boomgaard (Chris) was in the Navy at the time between important wars like Viet Nam and the Gulf. He spent several years abroad on a ship somewhere that he couldn’t tell us about. He didn’t participate in combat, but he was one of thousands of dedicated people in the military.
Chris was a first born son who put a name to the initial-name of his father, C. J. Chris’ mother JoAnne insisted that he had a genius I.Q., but that might have been just wishful thinking (I knew him, after all, and just thought of him as smart). JoAnne struggled with a decision to push him ahead a grade or more or to leave him at the appropriate grade level for his age, because she feared that if he advanced ahead it might harm him emotionally.
In the end, JoAnne decided to leave him with his age group. Chris was bored and restless, leaving home at fifteen to hitchhike to Big Sur. It was the place to be in the late 60′s, where hippies and war protestors hung out, complained about the government and didn’t do much else. He found some relatives in California, and lived with them while going to college. He returned home with hair down to his shoulders and a girlfriend who wore fake leopard skin shirts and very short shorts. She didn’t fit in with Chris’ family, so C.J. and JoAnne bought her a one-way flight back to California. Chris didn’t seem too upset about that.
Not long afterwards, Chris enlisted in the Navy. After serving several years in the service, he got a good job, married his high school sweetheart and had a daughter. At thirty eight years old, he developed both acute leukemia and lung cancer at the same time, and fought the illnesses bravely to the end. Both diseases were known for fatal outcomes, but he kept insisting he would survive. He remained cheerful and continued to work until a few days before he died at home at the age of thirty nine while his child was away at summer camp.
Chris was my big brother. I miss him and think of him on most days.
Chris’ life wasn’t particularly notable. In his lifetime, he did a lot of things that were good, and a few that weren’t like most of us. He was a leader in his own way, especially when it came to his upbeat attitude about the illnesses that would eventually take his life.
I couldn’t find anything on the internet about him. I think that’s sad, and on this day, I wanted to make that right. He was my brother after all, and a veteran. Even though he lived a rather quiet life, he deserves his place here on this day when we remember our veterans.
My daughter Briana wrote this poem about her Grandfather, based on a story he told her of his time in the army. His name is Harold Asmus, and he is a veteran of WWII, spending part of his enlisted time on Christmas Island at a weather station. Today, he volunteers at military funerals as part of the honor guard in his home town, and still looks handsome in uniform.
He drew from his pocket
a delicate puzzle,
five tiny pieces
hung by a string
worn like a medal
from an unknown realm.
His eyes lost their clouds
as he put it together.
What really happened on Christmas Island?
Tying land crabs
to weather balloons,
the smell of the station
in late October
in the flashes of fire and settling of dust –
he disassembles it
like a gun,
piece by piece.
Pieces, like limbs,
scattered by mines,
his hands shed their years
like flags in the wind,
his eyes wear their pride,
as the smoke
ascends to the sky.
On this day, we are grateful to all of the military men and women who’ve sacrificed in death, disablement, and life for our country. Please thank and honor a veteran.