in memoriam: Joel A. Metts

I hung a flag out on the porch yesterday, as I always do for Memorial Day and the Forth of July. It’s the flag from my grandfather’s casket.

Pop, as I knew him, was a gentle old man with a drinking problem. He returned from the Pacific after World War II, where he had served as a SeaBee (the Construction Brigade’s, or CB’s). A carpenter by trade, he had helped build bridges on islands I can not name in military actions he never told me about.

Pop didn’t talk about the war. But his loss was great, nonetheless. It was not the loss of life or limb, but of joy. Like many men in his time, he returned to a wife he no longer knew and who no longer needed him in the same way. Divorce and drinking drove them both to despair.

After that each had several partners—marriages, as my parents put it euphemistically. And though late in life they both recovered some of their dignity, the war cost them a great deal. It costs us all a great deal.

I never knew my grandmother. Not really. But Pop sometimes stayed with us when he was drying out. One summer, when I was 14, we built forms for sidewalks and driveways in Cape Coral, Florida. He paid me far more than I was worth.

He tried to teach me about the tides too. He would take me fishing with a cast net along the banks of the bay, trying to explain the ways of the sea. I wish I had listened.

His hands trembled all the time, but his heart was steadfast, loving however imperfectly his county and his children. The year before I was married he was gone.

Florida Congressman Allen Boyd has said, “We owe a debt of gratitude to the soldiers that have paid the ultimate price for this cause, as well as for those who are blessed enough to return from the battlefield unscathed.”

But no one returns unscathed. Not even those who never went. My dad was too young for Korea and I was too young (barely), for Vietnam, although some of the older boys I looked up to in grade school came home in flag-draped wooden boxes of their own.

But unscathed? Hardly. Some gave up their lives for our freedom. But Pop and many like him gave up their dreams. Generations have lived with the losses.

And with the blessings. Freedom is such a fragile and costly thing. To find its price we have to do more than count the grave markers. We must be thoughtful and grateful, guarding our liberty with vigilance and purpose.

Pop never told me about the war. He was too kind. He never talked about what it cost him either.

If he did I was too young to pay attention. Now I am too old to forget. And so I hang his flag with reverence, for what it cost and for what it bought.

It is a memorial, and, for me, this is his day.

4 thoughts on “in memoriam: Joel A. Metts”

  1. Thanks for the thoughtful words. my brother was one of those that was old enough for Vietnam and came home in one of those flag draped wooden coffins.

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