Part of the Mare Herd at the 4DH Ranch in Oklahoma. For More Works by Debra Coppinger Hill Click Image.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Dressed in our best clothes, our shoes shined and holding bundles of small flags in our hands, we sat quietly while he drove. He too, wore his best, including his Sunday Stetson. The silence was uncharacteristic; usually he was full of stories and jokes that kept us laughing and chattering. This day, however, was a reverent day and our first time to join him on this yearly trip.

As he pulled to a stop and put the truck in neutral he said, “You all just follow me. You both know what your jobs are?” Having received instructions at home, we nodded. He got out and took a bushel basket from the bed of the truck. We followed him through the gate of the cemetery and along a path by the rock fence. He stopped, looked out across the graves, sighed then nodded his head and stepped forward to the headstone in front of him. Taking a wreath of red, white and blue flowers from the basket he placed it before the stone and stepped back. As he removed his hat and held it over his heart, we stepped forward and each placed a flag beside the stone. As we stepped back beside him he looked down and nodded his head again and the three of us said out loud, “Thank You.”

Each time we ran out of flowers or flags, he fetched more. We repeated this ritual 36 times. When the last grave was decorated we followed him back to the gate where he seated us at a picnic table. He brought one more basket from the truck and laid out a picnic lunch before us. While we ate he told the story that I would hear each year for 35 more years.

“When they called up the men in our town, I working in the oil fields and when I went to enlist they told me I was needed at home. I stayed and worked hard, but I never felt quite right about it. These men went and never came home to their families. Many of their families no longer live here. They deserve to be remembered and for as long as I live they will be remembered on Memorial Day. Never forget that we would not be free to live our lives if it were not for them. Never forget that they have earned our respect and that their sacrifice for freedom, is the greatest of gifts.”

He never spoke of the things he did at home besides working. He never took credit for keeping a garden and fishing and hunting to help feed the families of the men overseas. Nor did he ever speak of the home repairs or farm and ranch labor he did for free or the money he gave to help with rent, mortgages and things needed by the children of those families. These are the things we would learn about after he passed away. These were the stories they would tell us; of how he stepped in and became a provider for many of the families left behind. He too, sacrificed; and yet, remained humble as he honored them.

Today the baskets sit in the back of our truck. My daughter and I will take my grandson to visit his Great-Great-Grand-Father and the men he honored each year. We will place 36 wreaths and 72 flags just as he did. Then just before a picnic lunch, we will place one more wreath and two more flags and we will say, “Thank You”, to a man who not only did his duty, but taught us ours.

**RIDING DRAG with DEBRA COPPINGER HILL is featured each week at ALWAYS COWBOY where Debra is a Resident Western Poet. Join her and her Cowboy Friends for Cowboy Poetry, News & Events. http://alwayscowboy.net

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