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Liberty Model

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My eyes settle on a plexiglass case in the corner of the living room, and trace the contours of the weathered trumpet inside until they rest on the words Liberty Model etched into the horn.

This relic dominated a closing window in my grandfather’s life between the Great Depression and World War

II, when he sang and played trumpet in Spike Jones’s swing band, before he left music to serve on a Navy warship, before his ship was sunk in a brutal surprise attack early one December morning at Pearl Harbor, before he was called upon in the aerial ambush’s aftermath to identify his fellow soldiers by their teeth.

As my eyes follow the mouthpiece of the trumpet back down past the slides to the bell, I draw my first line

of honor between the grandfather I never knew and his military service. I never knew my grandfather as a veteran,

because I never knew him as a grandfather. I only knew him as this trumpet, because his own heart stopped on the side of a California road when my dad was still a teenager.

One of my favorite photographs is of my grandfather holding my dad a few years after the attack at Pearl Harbor. There’s a joyful love in the smile that the man shines onto his only son, there’s playful innocence in the part combed into his son’s hair. Behind them are stairs leading up to a screen door and behind the screen door is a darkness set off by the striking white of the Navy uniform. 

And there are stories in the serviceman’s strong hands, a living story in the shape of my dad and another story, an untold story of the weight those hands carried home from the war, a story that disappeared into the ether one afternoon on the side of a California road.

Memorial Day is supposed to be about honoring men and women who have died while serving their country. But the weight carried by those who come back alive can kill them, too.

So let’s also remember those veterans.

And better yet, lend a hand to those who are still here.

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