Both of my parents, Lt. Col. George A. Blednick and Virginia Collins Blednick, are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Unfortunately, they both died “young.” My father died of lung cancer at the age of 51 and my mother died of complications related to breast cancer at age 65. Since I regularly attend conferences in Washington, I have the honor of visiting their grave site in Arlington, Virginia, every year.
On a recent visit there, I was struck by the paucity of information about my mother on the gravestone that she shares with my father. On the front of the gravestone is the symbol of the cross in a circle, indicating his Catholic faith; then below, my father’s name in capital letters. Reading down the stone, the inscriptions further indicate that he was born in PENNSYLVANIA, that he was a LT COL in the US AIR FORCE, and served in WORLD WAR II, KOREA AND VIETNAM. Then his dates of birth and death are written SEP 28 1920 (to) AUG 24 1972, followed by the initials AM & DFC & KSM, designating his Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross and Korean Service Medal awards. On the back of the gravestone is the Arlington marker number, 53791, then my mother’s name, written as VIRGINIA C, followed by HIS WIFE, then the dates of her birth and death, JUL 27 1921 (to) JUL 15 1987. Nothing more!
On my father’s side of the gravestone, his service in three theaters of war was recognized as well as his accomplishments in receiving his three medals — all noteworthy achievements.
I was, however, troubled by the “HIS WIFE” treatment that my mother received, since I lived through the many years that required her heroic sacrifices to keep our family together.
So, to honor my mother, VIRGINIA C, I want to establish a few medals to acknowledge the enormous sacrifices she made to both support my father in his service to our country and to provide a stable, nurturant environment for me and my four siblings.
The first is the RFA, the Relocating Family Award. My mother was the prime mover in setting up homes for her children — seven different locations in 18 years, including such faraway places as Buchschlag, Germany, St. John’s, Newfoundland, and up and down the East Coast of the U.S.A. This award also includes moving across the Atlantic with three seasick children under the age of 5 on a ship that took 10 days to complete the journey. It also includes living in postwar Germany from 1948 to 1951, and moving five children from New York to Newfoundland on a C-47 troop transport airplane, then renting a house in downtown St. John’s.
I was 7 years old at the time, but I still remember the long kiss and embrace of my parents on the runway of an air field near Washington, D.C., before my father boarded a plane for Korea. We did not see him again for almost two years. I don’t know how my mother survived the loneliness of that phase of her life.
After returning from Korea, my father continued to be away for weeks at a time, usually in Thule, Greenland, as part of the DEW line (Distant Early Warning) defense system of the Cold War years. Despite these periods of separation required by military service, my mother bravely soldiered on, essentially raising five children as a single parent for long periods of time. For her achievement in this area she richly deserves the SLM, Surviving Loneliness Medal.
Although my father, “The Colonel,” as my brother and I would mockingly refer to him in our teen years, saw himself as the financial expert in the family, the real CFO was my mother. She understood the bargains available at the Commissary and base exchange, known as the BX, and was able to stretch a dollar to provide food and staples necessary for her children on the salary of an officer in the Air Force. For her ability to negotiate the difficult terrain of fiscal responsibility, she is awarded the SCFOM, the Spouse Chief Financial Officer Medal.
The most painful and poignant award my mother earned was the WPH, the Wife Purple Heart, given to a woman who had hope for a better life in retirement with her husband, whose untimely death derailed those dreams. After long years of waiting for time together, she had to endure more time alone! For your heartbreak, Mom, we award you the WPH.
So, if I were to rewrite my mother’s side of the gravestone, it would include the following: VIRGINIA C BLEDNICK, PENNSYLVANIA, US AIR FORCE DEDICATED WIFE, TEXAS, GERMANY, NEWFOUNDLAND, NEW YORK, RFA, SLA, SCFOM, WPH, JUL 27 1921-JUL 15 1987.
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