Just in time, the cap arrived in the mail.
I had found a website where a variety of caps could be ordered with service insignia embroidered on them. It was my Father's Day surprise for Himself. He served during the Korean War for 4 years in the Navy, but it was East Coast service, from Norfolk north and south to the Caribbean islands. As a veteran, he always pointed out he had never been in combat. Others had done the heavy lifting, not him, he always said.
As I walked back to the house from the road, I wondered if this would be something he would like. If not, it was too late now. I handed him the bubble-wrapped package.
"Mail for you"
"Ah, am I 'occupant' or 'householder'?" he quipped.
Then he tore the flap and pulled out the navy blue cap with "U.S.S. Botetourt, APA 136" on it. There was a embroidered silhouette of his troop ship above the letters.
"Aw" he managed, running his fingers across the embroidered letters. I could see he was a little choked up, so I ruffled what was left of his once blond, curly hair. I managed to say, "Try it on." Which he did.
He didn't need a mirror. Remembering, he gave it just the right adjustment--squared up and ready to render a proper salute.
Then he carefully took it off and placed it gently on the closet shelf.
"Aren't you going to wear it?" I asked, a little hurt.
He obviously liked it, why not wear it now? He said he would, for special occasions. Oh dear, was this going to be another gift stashed away, like his collection of after-shave lotions?
I LOVE A PARADE
A few weeks later I got my answer. For the last several years we had parked our chairs roadside to watch our town's July 4th parade. We arrived early. We had sun-screen on, water bottles at the ready, and sunglasses. I had on what he liked to call my Safari Hat. Perched on his own head, squared away just so, was his new cap. I understood then. This WAS a special occasion.
Parades everywhere are so much alike, aren't they? Antique cars aooogah-ing as they pass, fire trucks clanging, with firemen throwing candy. There are high school bands, the sweating marchers in full uniform. Local gymnasts, wrestlers, civic organizations go by on floats. Clowns or some men's club execute funny marching patterns. Lots of dogs and horses. Local farmers shine up their tractors and chug along. Politicians glad-hand the crowd, passing out leaflets that urge us to remember them in November.
What Independence Day would there be without military units? Representatives of local veteran's groups, Humvees painted in desert camouflage, and reenactors in vintage costumes.
The honor guards were approaching with the service flags of Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force. They flank the Stars and Stripes, holding center position. Himself rose from his chair, removed his cap. He executed a firm salute to Old Glory.
As He replaced his cap again, an Army jeep drove slowly by. The sergeant motioned to the other two men he was with, pointing to my husband. They stood up from their seats and saluted him. He caught his breath, then saluted them back. He nodded his head a little towards them, as the jeep drove past.
"Can you believe that?" he said to me. His eyes watered and he gave a shaky laugh. "THEY saluted ME! It was always the other way around."
He talked about it for months. He was just a vet who had served, not in a spectacular way, just served. And he loved the cap that reminded him of that service, so we set it at the foot of his coffin for the wake.
This year I will wear his cap to the parade---because it IS a special occasion.
I have no right to offer a salute, so when Old Glory goes snapping by, I will take it off and hold it close to my heart, as he had held it close to his. I will honor not only the flag, but the millions of men and women who have served our country-from 1776 to today. To honor those of you who did the "heavy lifting" and those of you who were ready to.
And in my heart I will salute you all.
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Amy Kenneley columns
4th of July