Elvis, revisited by a non-fan

Amy O’Leary

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Friends, Memorial Day 2020 has officially come...and gone. For many, the last Monday of May means the unofficial start of summer. It also means that you can wear white up until Labor Day and not upset the proper fashion dress code. You can also buy any number of furniture items on sale — memory foam mattress, anyone?

Memorial Day weekend is a 3-day affair. Normally, Emmett High School would hold their graduation ceremony over the weekend, but it has been rescheduled for June due to the Corona Virus. Many families would invade campgrounds and theme parks, or we might relax in front of the TV and watch cars race the Indianapolis 500. But for me, Memorial Day weekend has always been a time to think of my Uncle Phil.

Growing up, I had always heard about Uncle Phil, my mother’s brother. Uncle Phil was 18 months older than my mother. He was a terrific artist. He was handsome, and my mother told me, he was my grandparents favorite. I have many photographs of Uncle Phil as a boy, as my grandfather was an amateur photographer. Uncle Phil was drafted into, and was a gunner in WWII. His plane was shot down over the English Channel and was never recovered.

This news devastated my grandparents. My grandfather, their father, had fought in WWI. Grandpa Joe had many souvenirs from that war: coins, photographs, and when the war ended, he brought back many treasures like art, pottery, and jewelry from his time in Europe. The only souvenir we have from Uncle Phil’s time in WWII is his Purple Heart, and an American flag that was sent to my grandparents when he died.

When I was young, each year, on Memorial day, my mother would hang ‘Old Glory’ at our house. To say that my mother hung out the flag was an understatement. The flag draped the front of our large 2 story California bungalow. Hanging from an upstairs balcony, it painted our otherwise dark shingled house in red, white and blue, with 13 stripes and 48 stars. It was made of cotton in bright red, white and blue, and the flag was massive. When cars drove by our house, they would slow down to look at it. People who walked by would comment on it. My mother was so proud to hang that flag.

Memorial Day is the day to remember those who died in active military service. I remember my Grandfather on Veteran’s Day. But Uncle Phil never had the distinction of being a veteran. War is hell. For those that fought, and for those whose lives were forever changed by it on the home front. Each Memorial Day, I honor a man that I never met. I used to take his Purple Heart for show and tell when I was in grammar school. I named my son P.J. after him. I would have loved to have known him.

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