It was late 1952, and my father was returning home after spending two years on the battlefields of Korea. He found himself in an unfamiliar city, waiting for the bus that would bring him even closer to his wife, his family, and northern Maine.
He settled down on a bench directly in front of a small diner, where the aroma of pure American cuisine enhanced his desire to go home. He decided there was plenty of time for a quick meal and as he stood, grabbing his drab green knapsack, an elderly and disheveled man approached him, asking for a dollar to buy food. Dad answered him quickly, “I won’t give you a dollar but you are welcome to join me for a meal. You can have anything you want from the menu, Sir, and it’s on me!” The man shook his head and waved his hand at Dad. He was clearly not interested in the offer and he continued down the street in search of that dollar bill.
Belinda Wilcox Ouellette’s father, Cpl. Thomas Wilson Wilcox, United States Army, served two years in the Korean Conflict.
Dad knew the hunger in that gentleman’s belly was for something much stronger than the Meatloaf Special.
My father did not talk often about his time in Korea and any tale he decided to share was treasured. On May 13, 2013, as I stood with my right arm wrapped tightly around Pole No. 20 on the Avenue of Flags at the Caribou Veteran’s Cemetery, I thought again of the bus stop story.
My father was 23 years old when he boarded that bus; his head reeling with the memories of war. He must have been frightened as he rounded that final curve in the road that took him back to civility. Would he be strong enough to step back into his life? Would the severity of battle rob him of his capability to love? He was assured by his beloved country and the medals in his knapsack, that he was a hero; but his bones ached with the experience and the knowledge that freedom comes with a heavy price.
And now, 61 years later, 22 years after my father’s death, I was one of 30 people privileged to raise the American flag in honor of a loved one’s service, commitment, and sacrifice. As I pulled the thin, gray rope toward me, all 30 flags raised in unison. The sweet, eerie melody of “Taps” somehow slid effortlessly through an untamed May wind as we wept under a white, cloud-riddled sky.
After the benediction, we stepped away from our flag poles and walked down the Avenue of Flags toward our waiting cars. I thought again of that young and handsome, red-haired American soldier waiting so patiently for that bus to take him home. He would soon make that difficult transition from decorated warrior to husband, son, brother, friend and father. Thomas Wilson Wilcox would have been so proud to know that one day that very flag that he and countless others hold so dear would be raised in his honor in a cemetery dedicated to veterans on Caribou, Maine soil.
Belinda Wilcox Ouellette lives Connor TWP with her husband Dale and their Goldendoodle Barney. They are currently working on building a home in Caribou. You may contact Belinda online at: email@example.com.