The wind had a slight chill to it as Paw Paw buttoned his light wind jacket up to his neck.
He was sitting under the carport that November day, all alone. I watched from behind the glass kitchen screen door as he packed his pipe with his signature Prince Albert tobacco.
I slowly made my way outside to Paw Paw, who had a brand-new flag in his lap.
Tomorrow was Veteran’s Day, and he wanted to replace our old flag with a new one he purchased at Hudson’s Pharmacy.
“Can I help you,” I asked, grabbing the back of his wheelchair.
“Why sure,” he said, shoving the pipe in his mouth.
I pushed Paw Paw’s wheelchair out to the flagpole. His arms weren’t as strong as they used to be, and it was becoming more difficult for him to push his wheelchair through the grass.
As the wind brushed past my face, Paw Paw began to fish through the series of ropes that held up the flag. I could tell he was getting aggravated with it, but he never complained.
Leaning forward as much he could in his wheelchair, Paw Paw pulled on the ropes until the new flag could be seen flapping in the breeze.
And then he just sat there. He didn’t say a word. He just looked up at the new flag for a little while.
“It’s pretty, ain’t it,” he asked, as I ripped up a few blades of grass.
“Yeah,” I responded, not really thinking about it. “But it’s just a flag.”
I didn’t really think about what I said that day. I was only a child and meant nothing by it. But now as an adult, I understood why Paw Paw looked at me so strangely that afternoon.
“It’s more than that,” he said.
I nodded my head and jumped onto my tire swing. Paw Paw kept smoking his pipe and began making jokes about Maw Maw’s new haircut. Life continued in my small world for that moment.
But he was right...it was more than just a flag.
It was something he risked his life for during World War II. He was a young man, barely legal, when he headed off to Germany, but he was ready to fight and possibly die for a country he loved.
While his family carried on with their lives, he fought for his own. When Maw Maw was busy clipping ration stamps, he was clipping strips of clothes to bandage the wounds of friends.
When his younger sister was complaining about the Mississippi winter, he was struggling to stay warm in a German forest as his friend’s foot showed signs of frostbite.
When his nephews were writing letters to Santa, he was writing a letter to a woman he never met to give her words of encouragement after the death of her son.
While his neighbors were wondering what the weekend would hold, he was wondering if he would live to see tomorrow.
And while his little brother waited in the woods for that next squirrel to shoot, he was waiting on a tank to cross over the snow-covered hills.
Paw Paw returned home from the war with a warm response from friends and family. His entire community even assembled a parade for many of the county boys who made it back safely.
But there were also a few new tombstones in the rural cemetery.
Paw Paw slowly made his way back into the woods and began his hunting obsession again. It took him several months to even fire another gun. He never complained about the bitter winters again. And he always honored Veteran’s Day with a phone call or two to an old Army friend.
He got a job at the paper mill. He got his garden back in order. And he made a living for his family.
Paw Paw may have not been a millionaire, and his name isn’t found in any history book. But he was a good man who served his country, loved his family and held his chin high.
And I am extremely proud to have his blood running through my veins and to be named after him. My husband Jason and I even named our firstborn son after him. And not a day passes that I don’t ask myself what he would do in a situation.
As this Veteran’s Day rolls around, I understand now what he meant that day many, many years ago.
It is more than just a flag. It’s an honor. It’s a blessing. It’s Paw Paw. It’s every veteran.
I pushed Paw Paw into the house that night, and we settled in with a hot supper and a few moments in front of the television.
Later on a cousin from down the road stopped by for a quick visit.
“I see you got a new flag,” he said. “It looks good.”
“Somebody’s gotta do it,” Paw Paw said, with a laugh.
And now I know why he did.