On Memorial Day Americans are asked to remember the fallen–those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. These service members gave their lives, but their family members also gave away part of theirs by losing their loved one. My mother’s family is counted among those who had their hearts broken by a casualty of war. We lost my Uncle Joe–1st Lt. Joseph Ambrose Doyle, Jr..
It is impossible for me to remember my uncle because I never met him. He died while my mother was in college and before she had even met my dad. Thus, my only memories of him are simply the stories that my mother, my aunt and other family members have told me about him, an image of him in his uniform with an infectious smile, and a picture of his grave. Mom and her older brother were close, and that his death left a huge hole in her heart. Dad confided in me that facing the anniversary of her brother’s death was difficult for Mom even in her later years.
My heart breaks for many reasons at the loss of my uncle. His life was cut tragically short. He joined the Army Air Force during World War II when he turned 18. He died at age 20. Uncle Joe was an outstanding athlete in high school. He was a college student at The Citadel. He had a girlfriend, Sue. His whole life stretched before him. But it ended before his adult life really had much of a chance to begin. What joy could he have brought to his family members if he had returned home? What offspring could he have produced? What stories could he have told me about his war experiences?
Uncle Joe was a pilot who flew a B-24 bomber. It must have been horrific to be tasked with raining death and destruction from the sky, but it was kill or be killed. He cheated death at least once. His plane was shot down and crashed into the Adriatic Sea. He and one other crew member were rescued by an Italian fishing boat; they were the only survivors.
Prior to his untimely death, Uncle Joe got to see a little bit of the world. He was stationed in Bari, Italy, a city on the east coast of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. Perhaps being there reminded him of home, the South Carolina coast. But, alas, he would never see home again nor would he ever come home. He was killed on April 28, 1945 when his plane crashed into a mountain during poor weather while he was transporting troops to Rome. Uncle Joe was buried in an American cemetery in Italy along with thousands of other service members who also gave the ultimate sacrifice.
A telegram was sent to advise my family of his death. My mother got the news from her college dean; she was called into the administrator’s office during exam week to hear the worst possible communication from overseas. Uncle Joe was honored with a full military service back home, complete with a band and marching cadets from The Citadel and a 21 gun salute.
While I cannot provide my uncle with pomp and circumstance to honor his service and his sacrifice, I can honor him by keeping his memory alive. I love him because he was family and was close to my mom. As a military family member, I grieve for the loss that his loved ones experienced. As an American, I salute his patriotism, his service, and his sacrifice. If you wonder why I’ll be attending a local Memorial Day recognition event on Memorial Day, now you know. I may give an hour of my time to attend that event, but Uncle Joe gave the rest of his life for me and the rest of our country. I’ll never forget about you, Uncle Joe!