Giving BloodGiving Blood: One Way to Honor Veterans on Memorial Day

I got a call from the American Red Cross last week.  The woman said they were in desperate need of platelet donations. My blood type is O Positive so it can go to almost anyone in need.

When I arrived, I said I was surprised that they were working on Memorial Day. The attendant said, “A lot of people like to donate on holidays––especially Memorial Day.” 

Her comment made me think of my dad, a Kansas farmer, to whom Memorial Day was a sacred day of remembrance. Every year, my mother purchased buckets full of bright pink peonies (Dad’s favorite) from a woman in our church. We would wrap jelly jars in aluminum foil, and then we’d load the flowers, jars, and a trowel into the trunk of the car and drive to the cemetery.

I have vivid memories of Dad kneeling beside the graves of his parents and aunts and uncles as he dug holes to steady the jelly jar vases against the harsh Kansas wind. It was a solemn and respectful ritual, and I always assumed that during Dad’s silent moments he was thinking about his family members who had died.

It didn’t occur to me until yesterday that each year he was probably also thinking about the friends he had lost during WWII. After serving for 32 months in the South Pacific, Dad returned home to my mother and his dairy farm in central Kansas. Like many men of that generation, he rarely spoke of his wartime experiences. How I wish I had the opportunity now to ask him questions I never thought to ask while he was alive!

There was one experience that he did share with me that always makes me smile. My mother was a 19-year-old bride when Dad was shipped out to serve as a crew chief on B-24 bombers. Before he left, she told him she would like to have her name painted on the fuselage of one of those planes.

Dad knew that space and what went on it was the prerogative of the pilot, not the mechanic. However, one morning a new pilot arrived. When someone asked him what he wanted to have painted on the side of the plane, he shrugged and said he didn’t care. Dad watched and waited. As soon as the new pilot left for lunch, Dad had an artistic buddy fulfill my mother’s wish.

I’m pretty sure the heart and Mom’s name were removed from the plane before the paint dried, but the image of my dad standing next to the aircraft was captured permanently in this photo, and it filled my mother’s heart with love and hope throughout the long months of the war.

My Memorial Day blood donation this year was an accident of timing. But next year, and for as long as I am able, I will give blood every Memorial Day in honor of my dad and in memory and gratitude for all of the men and women who have served in the military, and especially for those who have died in service to our country.