"Grandpa, tell me a story."
It's getting harder to remember.
As the daily count of fallen soldiers mounts, it becomes ever easier to forget the person behind the name.
So it falls on the legacy holders. The parents, children and spouses. The ones who are left behind. They tell the stories the soldiers cannot.
The world of a soldier is supposed to be unremarkable. Go in and get the job done as a team. Don't stand out. One military, one mind. No individuals.
Only after they have died will we learn their story.
War story, that is.
And it's not just Grandpa's war story, anymore. We've had five major conflicts in as many generations, so everyone's got one. It's the story of our little cousin who just graduated from high school. It's our daughter.
War becomes the great equalizer.
So we have one couple who are raising their grandson. The boy's mother died while serving in Iraq. They tell her story. And we sense that every time they speak of her, every time they say her name, they're sharing her with us.
Sometimes the stories have happy endings. Often they do not. And for many of the storytellers, the telling is a gift. All they ask is that we listen. No response is necessary. Now we know about their soldier. We're thinking about them. Our thoughts honor them.
We don't always need words to honor the memory of those who sacrificed. Photos give an insight into a world that we can only imagine.
We look at the images of the women who served stateside in World War II and wonder "Was this her first job? Was she afraid?" And more whimsically: "How'd her hair stay in those fantastic pincurls all day?"
This weekend as we hurry to the pool or rush to the mall, let's take a moment to honor those soldiers who have died and those left behind.
We may see a man wearing his military uniform on Monday.
(And it still fits, thank you very much.)
Memories flash across his face and we want to ask. But we can't. So we wait.
Then he starts talking. About the friends he lost, the one who saved his life, and the uniformed soldier becomes a person, a man.
He's not Grandpa, but suddenly all we want to do is sit on the floor and tuck our hands under our chin.
Tina Johnson-Marcel is Online Daily News Editor for AARP Bulletin Today.