Memory can be a curious thing. My memories of my father’s sudden passing are a good example.     
    Jumbled images and emotions boil through my mind. The bolt of shock that shot through me when I found Dad lying motionless on the kitchen floor, his blue eyes unblinking and vacant. I instantly knew that he was gone.     
    Trying to perform CPR while I waited an eternity for the ambulance. At the hospital, the anguished faces of my siblings. The quiet moan that arose from my family when the doctor made it official. A major coronary. There was nothing anyone could have done.      
    The soul-crushing business of arranging a funeral. Picking out a casket, buying flowers. Were we doing it right? Would Dad have been pleased?     
    The overflow crowd at the funeral. We had no idea that Dad knew so many folks. Emerging from the church into the balmy April sunshine; a gorgeous spring day. Dad would have been pleased.     
    The slow ride to the hardscrabble hillside cemetery. The pastor saying his words and the Legion starting its military rites.     
    A young man put a bugle to his lips, and Taps echoed off the headstones. Who would not be moved when Taps is played at such an occasion? I tried to get through it by recalling the words. All I could remember was “day is done.”     
    Dad, a lifelong dairyman, had once been a sailor. Then I remembered George Tate.      
    About six months before Dad died, George had stopped at our farm. George, a local farmer, was hauling hay for us with his truck-mounted stack mover.
    George had parked his truck near our dairy barn. He unfolded his lanky frame from the cab and moseyed over to Dad and me.     
    George never passed up an opportunity to chat. Especially, it seemed, when he had a chance to talk with Dad.     
    I am sure we had work to do (when does a dairy farmer ever rest?), but I decided to hang around the two older guys and listen to their conversation.
    At some point, George asked Dad if he had been in the service. Dad said that he had. “What branch?” asked George. Dad replied that he had joined the Navy when he was 17. A look of intrigue crossed George’s weather-beaten face.
    Where had Dad sailed? The South Pacific said Dad.
    “Iwo Jima?” asked George.
    “That’s right,” said Dad.     
    A broad smile split George’s kindly features.
    “I was at Iwo Jima too,” he exclaimed.
    What transpired next was a wonder.     
    My siblings and I knew that Dad had served in the war, but it was a chapter of his life he was reluctant to discuss. What little he did say were not words of shame but those of a man who had looked upon an unspeakable horror and was trying to shield his children’s eyes from a ghastly sight.     
    As George and Dad visited that day, I listened in quiet amazement as the two old salts swapped stories. George spoke of bullets pinging off the hull of his landing craft as he ferried troops to the island. Dad recalled how the recoil from a salvo of his battleship’s nine 16-inch guns would cause the massive vessel to rock from side to side. They both spoke soberly of the terrible losses our forces sustained.
    At length George said, “We’ve seen a lot of Fourth of Julys, haven’t we?”
    Dad nodded in silent agreement, seeming to be suddenly embarrassed by the fact that I had been eavesdropping.     
    That afternoon, I learned more about Dad’s part in the war than in all of the previous 38 years combined.     
    As the last notes of Taps died out, I glanced around the cemetery to see if George were there. I espied him at the fringe of the crowd, standing tall and erect, his hand to his temple in a crisp military salute – an old warrior’s final tribute to a fallen comrade.     
    At that moment, I wanted to give George a bear hug and thank him for lending me a deeper understanding of my father. But, I did not for fear that I would appear unmanly.     
    But God, how I wish I had.     
    For George had bestowed upon me a gift on that long-ago autumn day, a gift I have passed along to our sons. Memories of a man who never shrank from his duties, be it to his family, his farm or his country.     
    So, the next time you pass a cemetery and see rows of tiny flags fluttering in the breeze, pause to give thanks for those who were willing to put everything on the line so that every American can live free.     
    And, think of all those memories.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.