The plan was to let my son call my dad on the way to school this morning. My parents had taken my boys to a Veterans Day parade in Dalton during a visit last weekend, and the older one in particular was impressed. He wanted to wish his Army Ranger-turned-Gramps well on the occasion.
Instead, 45 minutes before we would get in the car, it was my dad who called me. His mother, my last living grandparent, had passed away during the night.
Like other women of her generation, Jessie B. Wingfield did not serve in the armed forces. She was probably best known, by those who knew her, for teaching English for nearly half of her 90 years at Trion High School. Still, I find it somewhat fitting that she should go to her reward on Veterans Day.
Jessie — that’s all I ever called her — grew up on a farm in LaGuardo, Tennessee, not far from where the Cumberland River was dammed to create Old Hickory Lake. Before the nearby farmland, including some of her daddy’s, was flooded, it was used by the Army to conduct weekend maneuvers with troops bound for the topographically similar battlefields of Western Europe. The Army could be hell on the land and the fences that crossed it, Jessie often recounted. The soldiers sometimes thanked them by leaving behind precious unused rations of coffee and sugar.
During much of World War II, Jessie attended what is now Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. (She was justifiably proud that her parents managed to send all four of their girls to college during such difficult times.) The Army Air Corps had a training field there, and Jessie worked a part-time clerical job in support of that program between classes.
The man who became her husband and my Papa, Marion Wingfield, came ashore at Normandy in the days after D-Day. He died 25 Memorial Days ago, an easy date to remember even though he made it home from over there.
There’s no day set aside, as far as I’m aware, to commemorate the many sacrifices of those on the home front. What they do isn’t the same as those who put on the uniform, of course, but they are an important part of the whole nonetheless. From now on, for Jessie, this is the day I’ll think of them, too.