The July That Changed Me
The adventurous stories of my Uncle Bernie were told so often during my growing up years, that it felt as if he were still very much alive.
I held on to the words spoken by my Dad about the way his brother could light up a room and usher in rolling laughter. Uncle Bernie left a legacy that continues to be passed down today.
Stories of loyalty to his friends.
Stories of care for his family.
Stories of rising above adversity.
You see, my Dad and his little brother Bernie were the babies in their family of nine siblings. Their childhood was exceptional… the difficult kind of exceptional.
Intense memories of being evicted from homes they tried to rent, led them to take up residence under an actual bridge.
Can you even?
Eventually, the family found shelter and work as the parents struggled to make ends meet. With determination, the children gained stability with the kind of hard work that we don’t know much about.
The Vietnam War called my Dad and Uncle Bernie off to serve our country and I’ve always wanted to show meaningful thanks for the difficult road they journeyed.
It was the summer that we took our own family to Washington D.C. for the 4th of July, that I got to experience the weight and deep blessing of freedom.
My Dad always wanted to visit the Vietnam Wall to see the name of his little brother Bernie. I promised I would find his name, touch the reflection, and tell my own sons the story of determination in his life, ending far too soon.
I made my way to the memorial directory with tears gaining momentum. The book was about 7 inches thick, showing decades of weathered and tattered pages under the protective glass.
It was almost too much to bear, touching the book and feeling the loss of the tiniest names representing such enormous heartbreak.
It took some time to find his name. Silence and sniffles hovered as we searched for it in the pouring rain with the tiny hands of my own growing boys turning the pages.
We made our way to the wall and I completely fell apart.
I sobbed for my Daddy who dealt with the pain of war in his own heart and grieved a brother who did not return alive from the battle they fought together.
His name was engraved up high, so my husband lifted our son on his shoulders so he could trace the letters of his name.
Bernard Lee Holzknecht.
My Uncle. His brother. A husband. Their Son.
I also saw my own middle name etched within his and somehow gained a dose of courage, sharing my name with him.
After we finished talking to our kids about the meaning of the reflection of their little hands and faces on the wall, they stepped away so I could have a few moments alone.
I felt God nudging me to call my Dad to share the gratitude going on in my heart, that held such a special place in his.
I knew it was the important thing to do…so with my shaky voice and soaking wet face I grabbed my phone and dialed my Dad’s number in Alaska.
“Hi Daddy, it’s me Jenny and I’m at the wall.”
Tears from a grown man are precious, aren’t they? Especially the Daddy soldier kind.
“Oh honey, thank you. Thank you for taking the time. Thank you for honoring my brother.”
I could barely get a syllable out, let alone a sentence.
“Dad, I am so sorry and I want to thank you for serving our country and passing down a legacy of love and hope to my family.”
We shed tears together as I described the scene at the memorial and how hard it hit me to see the name that made all the stories I’ve heard for my entire existence come to life, for someone who lost his.
Every 4th of July since that moment, has a taken on a magnified meaning of the gift of freedom which is now engraved on the hearts of my own kids forever.