My Father was a World War II Marine. He is not my biological father, but he is my Dad. He raised me and he raised me well. He taught me about pride, how to stand up for myself, he taught me when to sit back and be silent. He told me that I was still wet behind the ears and I still am. He called himself a jarhead and taught me about Semper Fi.
When you think about crime, and active duty and war and all the crazy things that can happen to you, you never think that someone who is in the military is going to be taken by cancer.
When I was 15 years old, cancer took my Father home. Being 15, that is a messed up time for anyone, you are confused about everything and no one tells you anything.
My memory is acute. I recall when I was a baby and around 2 years old, yet the day of my Father's funeral, I have no memory. It is funny how the mind works because it protects you from things that may otherwise be disturbing.
I recall clear as day my family in the limousine driving to the cemetery. It was a beautiful, sunny November and just like a knife cutting bread, WAP! No memory, nothing, gone.
I had to ask my Mother did they do a gun salute, did they perform TAPS, did they fold the military flag on his coffin, did they hand over the flag all neatly folded in a triangle? She had to tell me all of that. I have no remembrance.
The years of illness before my Father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (bone marrow cancer) and the chemotherapy treatments to follow, was devastating. My Father, an over 6 foot healthy, muscled Marine turned into a shell of his former physical self. Once he was admitted, I was not allowed in the hospital because I was too young. At the time, you had to be 16 years or older to get into ICU, the Intensive Care Unit, where he was being kept comfortable.
I never saw my Father before he died.
Several years ago, I flew to Washington, DC to see Bob Dylan and also ended up going to Arlington. It was a pilgrimage. Have you ever been compelled to do something and have no idea why you wrote a letter, got in your car and went to someone's house or made a phone call or sent an email? It is your instinct telling you that you need to do this right now.
I said to my friend that I was visiting, we need to go to Arlington.
If you have never been to Arlington, you must go. My entire chest caved in. We had to stop so many times inside Arlington because I literally could not breathe. Arlington is a mirror of life itself. There is all of this death, and alongside of that, all of this life. There are birds and gardens, fountains and trees. Everything is alive and some of the grave markers are beautiful. Arlington is life and death existing together.
I saw Iwo Jima. I thought it would be a small sculpture. Iwo Jima is at least three stories high and bigger than a school. When I walked upon this sculpture, I felt so tiny to life, to the entire universe. I was circling and circling this bronze, immense, mammoth sculpture and looked up at it and thought, That's my Father, that is my Father.
It is a long walk from Arlington to Iwo Jima. The entire walk back, I do not even know what I was doing, letting go of all of those years, yet not aware of it. I was with my friend Ed and he just allowed me to go on and on ranting and crying and screaming. He was silent, supportive, he understood.
When we went back to Arlington, I wandered off on a path to some place I was not supposed to be and looked up and saw a large granite sign on the wall. It was the oath that the sentinel takes for the Tomb of the Unknowns.
I was standing there trying to take photographs and abruptly to my surprise and shock, out of the door right next to me, steps a Marine. He was but a boy and oh, my goodness, he stopped and saluted me. It blew my mind. I felt like I should be saluting him. He turned on a perfect pivot click of heel and when he walked nothing moved but his feet.
We did not have a schedule. We just went on a whim. Neither of us knew anything detailed about Arlington. We had never been there before.
So, I was sneaking behind the Marine wondering where is he going? knowing I had to follow him and I do. Then he turns around the corner and Oh, my goodness . . . the changing of the guard.
The Marine that saluted me was the next sentinel to stand guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
When we got back from Arlington, this is what I wrote:
My Father was a World War II Marine. His name is Edwin George Koester. He is not my biological father, but he is my Dad. He raised me and he raised me well.