Last Wednesday we buried our Uncle Benny. He was married to our Aunt Lillian; they divorced but Benny remained our Uncle. He was our uncle by choice.
Benny was a farmer and up until his middle 80’s, owned and operated a lawn mowing business. After they took away his drivers license, he drove his lawn mower uptown. In his small town, the people left him alone; everyone in town understood his predicament and smiled. He was outgoing and friendly yet cautious.
Benny was more than a farmer and business owner. He was a veteran of World War II; he was an infantry man. He served in the European/African Theatre and Asiatic/Pacific Theatre of operations. Benny never talked much about his military experience. He was proud to serve. I never heard any self-serving bravado come out of his mouth.
In April 1969, I came home after a year and a half in Southeast Asia. Everybody I knew was involved in spring planting season so I went up and helped Uncle Benny for four days. He was appreciative; he was always appreciative. We had a good four days; we accomplished a lot. I enjoyed working with him; even when I was a kid I enjoyed working with him. After we finished supper the last night I was there, Benny said to me, “We need a drink to celebrate finishing our work and celebrating that you made it home ok.” I agreed.
As we visited, he began to talk about his experience in World War II. He said war is bad, but they must be fought; evil has to be challenged and stopped. As an infantry man, Benny saw first hand the pain and suffering of his friends. He told me of going five days straight without sleep, only catching a nap here and there. He told me that at the end of the five days, his uniform was soaked and caked with the blood of his dying friends; he lost many friends. Benny sat with his face down, tears flowed from his eyes. Some 25 plus years later, Benny wondered why he lived and others had to die. He understood—some will die so others can live. So goes the sadness and brutality of any war.
The priest at Benny’s service said, “If there is a good day for a funeral, today is a good day to bury a farmer and a veteran.” It was warm; farmers were beginning to work the lighter ground. You could smell spring in the air.
After the service as Benny’s casket was removed from St. Mary’s Church, it was quiet. The bell was rung, its sound rippled through the not-quite budded ash trees. The American Legion Color Guard stood at attention; no one said a word; we all watched as they put Benny into the hearse. Sadly, the world is not impressed with a man like Benny. He was too common, too simple, too unassuming BUT Benny was my friend and hero. It was a good day to lay Uncle Benny down. Thursday morning the sun came over the eastern horizon. Life must go on and I was blessed to have known him.