Memorial Day has always been a meaningful holiday for me and my family. The United States and the men and women who fight/fought/died for her hold special places in our hearts: My late husband, Bud, was in the Army and of course Art was a proud Marine.

Bud was 19 years old when he enlisted in the Army during WWII, just a kid as most of our boys and girls were. He participated in the invasion of Normandy and fought in the infantry in Ardennes, northern France and the German Rhineland.  I’d joke with him that he could remember all the names of his buddies but forget something I’d asked him to do 10 minutes ago!

Bud mostly spoke about the guys with whom he served and later became their sergeant. He smiled when he told me about one guy in particular who always missed curfew. Bud would find Red and drag him back to camp. Even then, Bud’s quiet strength, dependability and purpose were evident. He never spoke of the horrors and devastation he had seen. One moonless night he climbed up on a stone wall with his binoculars to check out the area. As he was sliding back down into position, enemy fire whizzed over his head; this was the moment when his “life flashed before his eyes”—a frightening wake-up call on survival and how life hung in the balance.

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After his discharge, Bud remained in touch with several of his “men.” One fellow lived in Yonkers; John sent me a beautiful note when Bud passed away; he thought that God would have a special place for Bud in heaven. He also enclosed a photo taken about three months before they came home. My heart broke when I looked at their young faces and realized what they’d seen and endured—how it would affect their lives from that day forward.

Art served in the United States Marine Corps from 1956 through 1961. According to him: “I went to boot camp in New River, N.C., a 6’4” overweight kid and came back a physically fit proud Marine.” I might add he was quite handsome in his dress uniform! Through him I saw firsthand this pride, the “Marine mentality” in action. The Corps influenced Art’s life in many ways. Whether he was pursuing a project to completion or dealing with the many health issues he faced later, Art met life head-on with courage, determination and strength. On a trip to California several years ago, we visited two of his buddies and their families—they hadn’t seen each other since 1961! I loved meeting them and hearing their stories about being in the Corps and their lives after; I could feel their pride in being Marines—you know, once a Marine, always a Marine!

One Corps-related fact of life: You never saw Art Scheffer wearing scuffed shoes.  I would watch with fascination as he placed his 50-year old wood shoe shine box on top of a towel on the bed. Out came the paste polish, brushes and soft cloths.  He would spend a good 45 minutes carefully applying the polish, brushing, buffing and shining his shoes; Art finished the job with a rousing “spit” polish. The result? A real honest-to-goodness “spit” shine!

A  Marine honor guard was in attendance at Art’s funeral. When I was presented the folded American flag, I noticed how young the Marine was; he stood ramrod straight and proud, a true Marine like my Marine of years past. Art’s surgeon called me several weeks after the funeral. In his opinion, the Marine mentality had carried Art through some very difficult moments, that he fought hard right to the very end; most people would have given up long before.

To all our men and women who are serving, have served and/or died fighting for our United States of America: Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!