It’s Memorial Day once again, and once again I put flowers on Harland Miller’s grave and an American flag near his modest headstone. I’ve told Harland’s story before, but it bears repeating. He was a farm boy, largely self educated in the classics, who was seriously wounded in North Africa, spent several years in hospital recovery, and eventually returned home to live out his life as an impoverished, eccentric hermit. He had no living relatives when he died in 2004, save a distant cousin who had little to do with him. The church was his family. Iris bulbs, some fancy tea and a few pennies each week made up his tithe. We were the executor of his “estate.” We buried him. His tightly folded flag, given by a grateful nation, or so the card said, has its place of honor on the bookshelf in the rector’s office. A few of his iris bulbs flourish in a small garden on church property.
I thought about irises for his grave. They do him more honor and give God greater glory growing where they are. Normally it would be roses from our garden, but an unusually cool spring kept that from happening. He had to settle for azaleas this year. I don’t think Harland would go for the popular talk about remembering and honoring American heroes. He didn’t see that there was anything heroic about being blown up by a German shell. On the other hand, I do think he would be pleased to know that men and women such as he have been remembered and honored for doing their duty, for persevering in the face of fear, for doing what they had to do in a place they didn’t want to be.
I wonder if someone has put a flag near my dad’s plaque in the memorial garden where his ashes have become soil for flowers to grow? He wasn’t a hero either. He loved to tell how he had served as a private in the Army and officer in the Navy at the same time. It seemed farfetched, but always entertaining. After he died we found his discharge papers, one from each service.