I originally wrote this short story on Memorial Day of 2010, and first published an un-edited version of this story on Monday, May 28th, 2012. The idea for this story came after I participated in a Memorial Day ceremony (that was held on the Saturday before Memorial Day) — after the ceremony I saw an older gentleman with a backpack full of flags, putting flags at every veteran’s headstone. This is what I imagined his story would be.
The grizzled old man arrived at his destination, his back hunched over and using a cane. He surveyed the scene before him with what combat veterans describe as the thousand-yard stare, a gaze that looks right through you, a look that says he has seen the horrors of war and that he cannot forget them some sixty years later. A vast sea of white lay before him. It was as if someone had planted the seeds for the garden of stone that was before him, ready for harvest.
“How many?” He asked himself, knowing that while there was no finite answer, the true answer was too many.
He trudged his way across the field of marble, stopping at each headstone to take a flag out of his bag and placing one in front of each marker. He read every name and calculated every age. He was tempted to say that a few were too young to be here; however, he realized that all the men and women that were here were all too young to be here, every soul here was cut down in its prime.
“What a waste,” he exclaimed while shaking his head.
Silent and respectful of the sacrifices of those just below his feet he soldiered on, he was determined to complete his mission before nightfall. Across the field he could hear a lone bugler play "Taps," the mournful sound echoed across the landscape.
The forlorn notes of "Taps" brought back memories of long ago when he was a much younger man. He could still hear their voices, still see their faces as if they were standing next to him. The thoughts of the war came rushing back to him. He remembered each death, he was one of a handful that had survived the entire war.
They were so young then, so full of life and ready to take on the world. Few of them had that chance, many of them were chewed up on foreign soil, never to see home again. They gave their lives for a cause they may not have understood or believed in, but, they knew that their country needed them, so they answered the call. He could see himself as a young man trying to comprehend the savagery around him. Trying to understand why he lived and others died.