Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Today is Anzac Day

Lest we forget

By Victor L. Midyett

[Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published for Anzac Day in 2015.]

Saturday [in 2015] was Anzac Day. Anzac Day [today this year] is the day to remember fallen soldiers and past wars. In Australia, it is more celebrated and honored than Australia Day. Every memorial everywhere in Australia, no matter how small the monument or the town, will have four soldiers or cadets standing at the north, south, east, and west corners of the memorial all night long, on guard until dawn facing away from the monument, with their heads bowed. Mostly silent, haunting dawn services will be held everywhere with a lone bugler or bagpiper playing as the first rays of the sun appear.

My dad’s last Anzac Day was Anzac Day 2008. He was determined to march in the parade, though he was weak and unable to walk very far in the weeks leading up to it. The year before he had collapsed and was collected by some watchful policemen in their car. But in 2008 he was certain that if he walked every day and built up his stamina, he could complete the march. After all, he was now 87 years young. Surely he could do better this year!
    Sad for me, it was my first march with him. Most of my adult life we had always been in different places, different countries even – I had been in Oklahoma in 2007.
    The Bunbury RSL [Returning Soldiers League] had welcomed him as their own, which made him very proud. He fought in America’s First Marine division alongside Aussie diggers in the South Pacific and in Papua New Guinea – not once, but twice landing on the shores of Guadalcanal, now considered the second bloodiest battle field in World War II.
    We urged him to ride to the war memorial for the official ceremonies in a beautiful 1924 model vintage car. The march through town would follow the ceremonies. He agreed, but only if his my son Michael and I rode with him. We did.

    As the car started down the road, with people waving, smiling, and cheering, Dad kept his head straight, seeming not to notice them.
    Michael asked, “Grandpa, why are you not waving at the crowd?”
    He replied quietly saying, “How can I celebrate surviving when so many of my buddies did not? This is my day to remember them. It is not about me.”
    I lost it quietly. No one noticed.
    Michael’s granddad was the second oldest survivor in attendance in Bunbury that day, and he sat in the front row at the memorial service. He stood when required but mostly just sat there very somberly, Michael sitting on the grass at his feet.
    At the close of the ceremony it was time for Dad’s big march through town – the march he had put himself in training for and was so insistent to complete this year.
    We started down the road. Michael on his left, me on his right. We were in the second row. In front of the first row were three diggers being pushed in wheel chairs. I watched Dad out of the corner of my eye taking three steps for every two that others were managing.
    As we neared the end, Dad stumbled three times but regained himself before falling. Michael and I held on to him. We had slowly lagged behind in the line to where we were almost in the fourth row. The fearful determination in Dad’s expression drenched his face. He was fearful, I think, of not completing his task, and fearful perhaps of dropping dead trying. He would hate to create a scene.
    At one point, not realizing he was only about 20 meters from completing his goal, he said, “I don’t think I can make it all the way again.”
    Knowing how important this goal had been to him, I said, “Just a few more steps, Dad. Look! Just up there is the finish.”
    “Okay,” he said. And he did it!
    How truly, fully important it was to him, I could not imagine.
    Afterward, he was completely unable to move on his own. I carried him to a rock wall on the side of the street where he sat for over thirty minutes, his complexion ashen. Then, with a combination of emotion and complete personal joy and pride, he looked up at me, with quivering lips and yelled with all he had left, “Yehaa...I finished it!”
    Later, on the ride home, as he was gazing out the side window, I asked him what was going through his mind.
    There was no response for a few seconds and I wondered whether he had heard me. Finally, though, shaking his head from side to side and not moving his gaze, he waved his hand in “no” and, barely audible in a shaking voice, replied, “Too many hard memories. I’m glad it’s over.”

That Anzac Day in 2008 was Dad’s last march. Ten weeks later he was reunited with his mates, my mother, and a host of loved ones and friends.
    And Saturday we remembered our fallen soldiers again – the ones who gave their all, for all of us. We set aside our politics, our religion, and any personal issues. Some of us asked ourselves whether we had been good stewards of our lives, our families, our communities, and our country the preceding year. But all the day asked of us was to remember and honor all the families of the fallen. Lest We Forget.
    I am the son of James Thomas (JT) Midyett, 1st Marine Div. U.S. Marine Medical Corps.

Copyright © 2017 by Victor L. Midyett


  1. What a beautiful and beautifully rendered memory Vic. I have had the great honor of designing healthcare facilities for the VA to give our veterans the same kind of nurture, state-of-the-art services and dignified surroundings as the best hospitals in the country. I even designed a Poly-trauma/Blind Rehabilitation Center for the VA Palo Alto campus. Working with the patients and with the clinical staff who are dedicated to helping restore, not just physical health, but a love of life, was very inspiring and humbling. Thank you so much for sharing your father's story.

  2. You are very welcome Eric and I appreciate your service. Historically, vets of every conflict have not been treated thankfully or gracefully. It is great to hear you have made a difference. Bravo!