It was a familiar Friday morning routine, staring at a blank computer screen pondering possible topics for my Sunday column.

Having just finished reading all about JUCO in the morning's Daily Sentinel, a column similar to others written over the past 16 years about JUCO memories was a possibility. Celebrating legislative successes, as I did twice during last few days with roomfuls of like-minded others in downtown Grand Junction, would have worked. All the outdoor pursuits made possible by the long holiday weekend beckoned.

Then I happened to look sideways at the old photo hanging among family memorabilia on the wall in my home office and realized what so many of us too often forget … the real meaning of this Memorial Day holiday.

I first stumbled across that sepia-toned photo, taken nearly a century ago, in a shop specializing in period photographs up in Crested Butte and later noticed it on a wall of a CB restaurant. It shows a color guard getting ready for a parade up in the town where both sides of my immigrant family first set down roots. Standing at attention in the center of that picture, holding the American flag, is my grandfather in his World War I army uniform as he prepared to march down Elk Avenue with similarly attired veterans.

It's not the earliest bit of military history in my extended family. On Bonnie's side, there's a letter from a distant relative writing about the expected victory of his Confederate side at the battle of Vicksburg. We all know how that turned out.

World War II found my late father-in-law piloting B-29s on bombing raids in the South Pacific. Over the years, we heard the funny wartime stories. Much later, still under anesthesia and recovering from surgery, he was found looking down at the floor, remembering those flights over Japan, and muttering "…those poor bastards." Those haunting memories were not shared.

It wasn't until we were clearing out the old family home in Crested Butte that we found out an uncle we seldom saw was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge. My military history loving son, now the custodian of family military memorabilia, is still focused on getting an elk with the old 8mm Mauser that uncle somehow got home from Europe with other mementos from both sides.

One of Bonnie's uncles spent his professional life on the civilian side of the military, traversing the world from places like Las Animas and Silver City to the Kunsan Air Force base in South Korea. He was recently buried alongside his wife at the Veterans Cemetery on Orchard Mesa.

During our college years, it was a couple of Air Force officers, one of whom escaped death in Vietnam while ejecting sideways barely above ground when the engine on his fighter jet failed upon takeoff, who nurtured leadership abilities in Bonnie that she'd never thought existed. Commanding an Air Force ROTC auxiliary unit took her across the country and polished skills later very much evident in her teaching career and guiding our family. 

Her husband, courtesy of student deferments, a very high draft lottery number and a diagnosis by an Air Force doctor that "Uncle Sam doesn't want to pay for your bad back for the rest of your life," managed to avoid Vietnam despite graduating from college just as things were heating up in the jungles and rice paddies. High school classmates weren't so lucky.

I found two of their names one misty, rainy midnight at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., tracing the letters with my index finger and thinking of happier times.

Years ago, I wrote about the working, as the brother of a conscientious objector, with the brother of a flyer killed in the early days of that war and a couple of high ranking ex-Marines to help make the Vietnam War Memorial out in Fruita a reality. Later, Bonnie's sister helped add the name of a friend from Mesa who'd enlisted in another state, to the local names memorialized out there.

So, in addition to baseball games, family outings and all else that fills a long holiday weekend, let's make time to remember all our family members who, one way or another, are the real reason for Memorial Day.

Jim Spehar's thankful for the sideways glance that inspired today's memories. Comments welcome at

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