When you see this flag, what do you think of? If you're familiar with our armed service, you know a flag, folded 13 times, is often the symbol of greatest loss. The flag is folded as it is removed from a casket of a fallen soldier, old or young, and presented to their family. Chances are good that the majority of people have seen such a ceremony occur at some point in their lives, whether at the funeral of a family member or on T.V. What does that have to do with this post and this flag? Nothing, and everything. You see, yesterday was Veteran's Day, and today this flag appeared on my table. The flag is from my husband's grandfather's casket. Edward Mettner was a CB in the Navy during WWII. His job as a 'Seabee' was to construct roads, airports, bridges, roads and huts for hospitals and housing in the Pacific Theater.
Edward Mettner (right side, bottom two, Ed after the war working as a machinist)
I know I'm not alone in posting about a grandfather who served in WWII. My own grandfather also served, but this post, is about Ed and how he, and his legacy, has changed me the last 16 years. I didn't realize how much he had changed me, indirectly since he passed away just a few months after I married my husband, until today, when I was staring down at the flag again after so many years. Maybe it was the election season we just finished, and the ensuing calamity that has gone on since the vote was tallied. Maybe it was because yesterday I saw these pictures of Big Ed's namesake, my 13-year-old son, standing up at a Veteran's Day program and reading about one of the pieces they would play for the band.
(Images courtesy of D. Donica)
The song was called "Escape From The Deep" and is about the men who survived when a Navy submarine, The Tang, was sunk by its own faulty torpedo. If you look at the middle picture, down in the left hand corner, you'll see Ed's older sister, Emily, preparing her music. The summer 'Big' Ed Mettner died, I was only a few months pregnant with Emily. We promised Ed as he lie dying of pancreatic cancer that if it was a boy, we'd name him Edward. We upheld that end of the bargain when two years after Emily arrived, we had our first son. Yesterday 'Little' Ed honored the Veterans of this country with music, and today he carried his great-grandfather's flag home. The uniqueness of that wasn't lost on me. His great-grandmother moved to assisted living recently and my husband and Ed went up to help them do some work in her house. The things he found were quite surprising, considering how long 'Big' Ed has been gone (16 years).
Helmet from World War I worn by Reinhold Mettner
De-milled grenade from World War II
I was struck by the thin metal the helmet is made of. The helmet would stop nothing, other than a little dirt falling on your head. It made me think about those men who at 18 went off to war, their chance of coming back alive slim to none. Then I looked at that flag again and in my mind's eye I saw the same flag being burned and trampled on in the wake of this weeks' election. I rested my hand on the flag and said, "I'm sure glad you're not around to see this, Ed." And I am glad, because the things these men did when they were no older than a high school senior went beyond what most of us can imagine. Those who can imagine what they went through likely served in our military as well. You know who can't begin to imagine what they went through? The guys taking a knee at the football games who have never gone for days without sleep in order to make sure their fellow soldiers lived to see the morning light, and to build the bridges that would allow the next wave of troops to come in and fight. The protesters in the streets this week who think they're doing so much for their country by marching and chanting, but the truth is, they're doing more harm than good. You know who did a lot for this country by marching and chanting? Our soldiers in wars throughout the times. They marched with guns, grenades, and bayonets to protect our freedom. Facing snipers with bullets as they tried to bulldoze through heavy brush or build a road for the troops behind them, is doing something for their country. Protests do very little, in the grand scheme of things, to change the thinking of others and they most certainly will not change the outcome of the event (be it the election, a trial etc.)
These men changed our country:
(Images courtesy of D. Donica)
Take a good look at their faces. These are the men who deserve to be called heroes. They changed our country by fighting for it against foreign dictators who wanted it! They fought against those who wanted to take the freedoms we enjoy in this country away from us. Freedoms like voting for candidates to lead this great nation. Many people in this world do not have that simple freedom. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers died for this country, or in many cases, carried the scars of those battles with them for years, so that we could go out and vote. Yet, 46.9% of Americans didn't vote this election. My guess is that 46.9% of Americans who didn't vote, forgot what it was like, or never knew what it was like, to put their hand on a flag that had once draped the coffin of an American hero. If they had remembered, they would have been first in line to cast a ballot for the men and women they trusted to keep the democracy of our country alive. And, whether our chosen candidate won or lost, each of us had done our part to keep this great country's democracy alive.
'Big' Ed in his football umpire uniform
I hadn't been dating my husband more than a month when we found out 'Big' Ed was dying of pancreatic cancer. I remember the birthday dinner we shared that year. We all knew it would be his last, but we talked, laughed, and ate as though it wasn't, until dinner came to a close. The air felt heavy as he went out into the hallway to put on his coat. The family was telling him goodbye and I was cleaning up the table, but raised my hand and said, "Happy birthday, you old kraut." He laughed, shook his finger, and said, "I like her. You should keep her around." I didn't know Ed very well, but I'm always one to use humor to lighten a situation, and Ed was the same. Later, my husband told me his words were Ed's way of saying I could be part of his family, not an accolade everyone received. It was a simple exchange between two people, but one I will never forget.
The Mettner family on the day the baseball diamond was dedicated as Ed Mettner Field
"Little Ed" taken in 2014, exactly 14 years after it was named Ed Mettner Field. We've taken pictures of him since was a tiny baby by this sign.
As I said, I wasn't part of the family for very long before Ed passed, but I did learn a few things about him. He had a naughty streak a mile wide. He loved nothing more than a good joke or a funny prank. He loved to go to coffee with his Bible study group, and he loved to work on the acreage of land in Mahtowa, Minnesota for many years. It was there, on that farm, where he would tell his grandson, my husband, about some of the experiences he had 'over there'. He kept it light, but it wasn't, and my husband understood that on a deeply respectful level. Ed's favorite story to tell was the time General MacArthur came onshore at Leyte. Apparently, the general didn't like the way it looked and demanded it be done again, so the cameras could catch it! Ed swore it was a true story, and when my husband told me, I didn't doubt it either. If there was one thing I learned from my own grandfather it was this; if they opened up and told you something about that time, never doubt it. Respect it because a precious few stories remain about those wars. In my heart, I'm happy we have a few stories about their great-grandfathers that are safe to share with our kids. Those are the stories that not only keep these men alive in our memories, but they are the stories that remind us who we are. WE ARE AMERICANS!!!!!!!!!!!! We are one nation under god. We are all human, regardless of the color of our skin, our religion, our sexual orientation, or our gender. When 'Big' Ed got on that boat at 18 he did it because it was his civic responsibility to keep America land of the free and home of the brave. The men and women who attended Veteran's Day ceremonies yesterday, the men and women who died before them, and those over fighting our wars right this moment, are truly the bravest. We owe them, and their families, a debt of gratitude in which we can never repay. How do I know this? This:
Sign on the acreage where Ed built the pond in Mahtowa. 'Little' Ed is on the right in the jean jacket
'Little' Ed describing his Edmund Fitzgerald project four years ago
As you've been able to deduce, when the war ended Ed returned to Cloquet Minnesota, and courted Dorothy, a woman who worked in the Boeing plant during the war. She rode a bicycle back and forth across the plant delivering messages. She, too, was barely 18 years old when World War II started. Together, they raised a son, Tom Mettner. 'Big' Ed loved his family, baseball, football, umping, and hunting. He worked at the local paper mill as a machinist. He taught his son the importance of family and country, and his son passed it down to his sons. I hope in our own way we are keeping that tradition alive by teaching our kids the importance of family and country. The importance of patriotism. The knowledge that we have our civic abilities because many men, just like their great-grandfather, who never got off those beaches. That they don't seek out a 'safe' place, but instead seek out a way to educate others about the importance of voting. That they don't take to the streets when they are unhappy with the way an election went, but instead take the leaders to task with what they promised to do. They say legacy is what someone leaves when they die, but I try to teach my kids beginning their legacy now, by being an upstanding young man or lady, by learning all they can about their country, by being brave in the face of danger and doing the right thing, are all ways to start their legacy early. You see, many of those men on those beaches and jungles had their legacies cut short, and I wonder what they would have gone on to do for our country. The men like Ed and my grandfathers lived a long life and their legacy is different for each person they came in contact with. For me, the legacy of these men is that of country before self.
(Image courtesy of D. Donica)
Right now, I think we all feel a little like this flag looks. We're tattered and worn, we're only halfway able to fight, but we are still waving. Whether our candidate wins or loses in the grand scheme of things isn't as important as this flag is, because we are all one nation under this flag. We can have our differences. We can debate and talk about the issues facing us. We can wish things were different, or better yet, we can make things different. We can take to the streets not to protest, but to find better candidates to lead our great nation. In the end though, the fact that we can, and should, go out and vote is because men like Ed Mettner didn't look for a 'safe' place to cry when he was 18 and faced with a choice. He packed his bag, said goodbye to his family, and plunged headlong into a foreign country with nothing more than a bulldozer and rifle to protect himself, and his legacy, with.
Dwayne and Elias Thanksgiving 2007
When Ed passed away that August day in 2000, I had the honor of writing his eulogy. I wrote it to him as a letter, and shared with him what I saw as his legacy. I had no idea (private joke there) how much of his legacy was yet to come. Since I wrote that eulogy back in 2000, we've had three kids, one who carries his name. I've lost a leg, my father-in-law has survived cancer, and my brother-in-law has had another kidney transplant. It's funny though, when we get together for the holidays or for a summer cookout, none of that matters. We're a family, and I think, if Ed was here right now, he would smile that naughty smile of his and be proud of his legacy.
Now, 16 years later when I see my own Ed Mettner do something funny, or something that makes me proud, I often think for a moment about 'Big' Ed. I wonder what I would have said if I was writing his eulogy today instead of all those years ago. I believe it would go something like this; Ed, I hope you're out on a ball field somewhere keeping an eye on us. I hope you can see the awesome personality of your namesake, a personality much like yours was, serious with a side of naughty. I hope you can see your son being a patriarch for our family, teaching my children love and respect by being the kind of man they can emulate. I hope you can see the wonderful men your two grandsons have become as husbands, and teachers. I hope you can see all of it from that ball field in the sky because I have the unique experience of never going a day without hearing your name. One thing I know to be true is this; even when the game ended and you weren't on the winning side of the board, you never lost hope in the team. You patted them on the back and said, "We'll get 'em next time. Good game. Hold your head up proud. You showed up and played your heart out." Once those words were said you led your team to the line of players to shake hands, as proud Americans.
'Little' Ed Mettner June 2003
I've been a bit out of sorts this week from the election results myself. But, when I took my hand off that flag after moving it from the table so we could eat dinner, I felt all of that anxiety disappear. It's going to be okay, because it was a good game. Some of us 'lost' and some of us 'won' but only if you're taking sides. You see, last night when I put food on the table for my kids, they were free to eat it or not eat it, because we're still a free country. We have checks and balances that will always back up or protect us when elections don't turn out the way we think they should, or would. The fact is on Tuesday November 8, 2016 we all had a chance to go out and play the final inning of our game. As long as we voted with our hearts then it was definitely a good game, and that's something we should all be proud of. To those marching in the street I tell you, go home, gather yourself, and then take to the streets for a good cause. Spread the word about getting out to vote. Go to a veterans' home and be a listening ear and a hand to hold. Give a hand up to a homeless or under served veteran who needs resources, or maybe just needs to know someone cares. Go to a cemetery and look out over the graves marked as a service member and say a prayer, leave a flower, or give it a salute. If you don't think those things will be humbling enough to change your mind about the outcome of this election then put your hand on a folded flag that once draped the coffin of a true American hero. It has the power to CHANGE the way you see life. Truthfully, that is what many of us fear, change, the good and the bad. Change can be hard, but we still have to give it a chance. Change your reasons and change the world. God bless America and our men and women who wear a uniform and who bleed red, white, and blue.