We can all recall times when Thanksgiving was joyful, filled with family and friends gathering to overeat, and renew old relationships, even with estranged members of our own family.
One Thursday in particular sticks in my memory, though not as a good day. It was the late 1960s, my first cousin had dropped out of college, got drafted and then married, and there was a baby on the way. Steve was a PFC in the 101st Airborne, and was sent to Vietnam where he died in 1968, just a month and a half after he was in-country.
My Mom and Dad decided to go ahead and have the traditional turkey dinner with his parents, my aunt and uncle. Steve's young wife did not come; she stayed with her parents. My uncle was quiet and reflective, and at the same time asked if he could give the blessing for Thanksgiving. It was about loss, about forgiveness, and about hope, something that was in short supply at that table that day. We ate in silence, consumed by what he had said.
As they said goodbye I remember we were all humbled by his words. They were heartfelt and yet tragic.
Steve's name is engraved on that black wall in Washington, Panel 50E, Line 21. I go as often as I can to thank him for what he did. That's my thanksgiving this year and every year since 1968.