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Happy birthday, Soldier Dad

There’s a black-and-white photo of my dad in his dress uniform sitting on my chest of drawers. His smile is mischievous as he looks not at me, but over my left shoulder at my mother, who smiles back. He was so handsome in uniform, Mom must have been flirting, too. I have his hat now.

Monday was Dad’s birthday, so I decided to take a short drive in his honor. The computer screen at the Eagle Point National Cemetery kiosk read — Dover, Myron Edward, served 5/25/42-1/9/46, U.S. Army Air Force Sgt. Born 11/3/19 interred 11/3/09. It was a reminder that Daddy wasn’t far away in New Mexico, where he’d last lived, but that he was gone from me. I’d come to visit his grave site, which was never easy.

They had renovated the beautiful facility and moved the main office building since I’d been there, so I needed a refresher. The kiosk prints a map for people to locate a specific site. Dad’s wasn’t far away.

The staff at the EPNC couldn’t have been kinder or more helpful. A man working nearby was happy to point me in the right direction. When I found Dad’s marker, I knelt, brushed it clean of a few grass clippings, and felt the tears come. I repositioned a leaf that had fallen and determined to return with flowers to decorate his space. Dad loved flowers. I turned to see if the man watched me, but he respectfully faced away. Aside from a couple of grounds maintenance workers, I was alone with thoughts of Dad and, as I looked out on the other grave markers, thoughts for the many from our area who had served.

Some may consider it strange, but I enjoy cemeteries. I find them peaceful and calming in a chaotic world. Looking at Dad’s name engraved on the plaque reminded me of the brevity of this life. I stood and looked out from the hill at the gorgeous valley below. It’s especially fabulous during this autumn season, with sunshine spotlighting the vibrant colors from thousands of turning trees. Dad would love that view.

Both Dad and his brother, my Uncle Dick, now 96, served during WWII. The two were my grandparents’ only children — each stationed overseas with an occasional handwritten letter for keeping in touch, no email or Skype in those days. I still love the photos of Uncle Dick astride a camel in India and Dad sitting with a mustache and bare-chested as a radio-controller on Guam, but I’ve often wondered how my grandmother (Goby) survived those years of wondering about her boys. It must have been a helpless feeling, and maybe the catalyst that drove her to a strong faith.

The brothers returned hale and hearty, went on to live full lives and raised families. Each of them worked for the Veterans Administration Hospital — Uncle Dick, or Lauren Dover, at our facility in White City, and Dad in a few different V. A. Hospitals in the West.

Anyone who’s lived in this area very long probably knows of someone represented in the EPNC. If not, it’s still a thoughtful place to visit and maybe leave a small bouquet out of respect for a soldier. There are regulations regarding items left — no breakables. They allow artificial flowers from Nov. 1 through March 1. The folks in the office are pleased to provide a sheet of general information.

I’ll fly the flag and celebrate this Veterans Day by trying to imagine how life would be without those who are willing to protect our country. Then, instead of crabbing over what I don’t have or how things could be better, I’ll consider my many privileges and enjoy them.

Happy birthday, Sergeant Dover, and to all who have or are serving in the military, thank you.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer who works from a 1900 farmhouse in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.