This is the last family photograph of the Nelson family. The next day Major Havelock David Nelson, my grandfather, shipped out for Clark Airfield in the Philippines. The fate of my grandfather and his fellow soldiers has been well documented by others on the Bataan Death March.
Oddly, there is more than one "official" version of Havey's death but, there is no disputing the impact of that moment on his family. My grandmother, who lived to be 97 years old, never recovered from the loss of the love of her life. This photograph, framed by brass filigree, sat on her dresser for all those years, forever freezing that moment's image of a family about to lose a beloved father, friend, and lover.
I heard stories about my grandfather while I grew up but I did not "meet" him until I was an adult and the internet allowed me to discover his story. He was a Marine during WWI and joined the National Guard after marrying my grandmother. An officer in the cavalry , he was deployed to Clark Air Field ahead of his own unit and served with a National Guard Unit from Maywood, IL. His own unit never made it to the Philippines as the islands had already fallen to the Japanese. I learned much of what I know from a website created at Proviso East High School for their Bataan Commemorative Project. I invite you, this Memorial Day, to visit this amazing memorial to the life and times of their local WWII soldiers.
If this link does not work, go to the main page of East Proviso HS and click on Student projects. It is worth the effort to see what high school students and a committed teacher can accomplish. None of these fallen soldiers will ever be forgotten.
This Memorial Day I am thinking of my grandparents and of all the military families in the US right now. There are more recent photos, just like this one, in homes across the country. There are other little girls who might never see their father or mother; other husbands and wives staring bravely into cameras for what may be their last family photo.
I wish I could think of something to say to the families of all our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can't, so I will just say "Thank you!" Maybe, someday, a group of students will choose to honor these soldiers from their communities as a way to say, "I remember."