As storytellers, we’ve learned that a tale cannot possibly survive alone; it first requires an audience.
Once interest has faded, however, even those most enduring of lessons beg for a considerate caretaker, one to preserve the truth and carry it forward until the task falls upon another.
A trip to London with his dad was a quick reminder of that duty for Keith Brind of Gibsons, whose father Ken served in the storied Royal Air Force Bomber Command.
“They all wanted to tell their stories to each other, and to anyone else who wanted to listen,” said Keith of the former air crews he met that day.
Keith accompanied his father throughout the journey, a story he said he’d never forget.
He also knew that someday his father’s stories would fall to him and other members of the family. From there, their destiny could be uncertain.
He considered joining the Legion, where membership numbers dwindled alongside those of the remaining vets. Perhaps it would offer him a chance to hold remembrance ceremonies at the schools again. Keith also explored a bit of amateur movie making as a way of giving his father’s memories more permanence.
But one thing has remained very clear for him.
“We need to keep their stories alive … the sons and daughters,” he said. “It has to be shared.”
A memorial came almost 68 years after Keith’s father finished his tour. For too many reasons, he was lucky to see it.
Politically, the act of remembering runs the risk of being confused for a gesture of support.
The unveiling of memorials and the photo-ops they provide can easily muddle the underlying reason of why we build them in the first place — “thanking those who stood up for our freedom.”
“These people, they volunteered,” Keith said. “They didn’t have to fly, the airmen that my dad was with for a year or so. I’m not sure what he was before, a clerk in an office?”
A clerk who strapped himself to a table inside a metal tube, reading a map inside an airborne target the lust of all matter of explosives, bullets, planes and flak shells attacking from every direction. A 21-year-old trying to finish the job and make it home for breakfast.
In 1944, this was the task asked of him. He did it without question.
But when it came to creating a memorial to Bomber Command, the questions were all we had. Was it necessary? Could there have been a better way? Did so many have to die?
“Each one was an individual and each one had a job to do,” veteran navigator Ken Brind said. For him it was that simple, even knowing the cost, the risk.
A memory will affect a society much like it does a person. To ignore those pieces of our past that weigh heavily upon our conscious is to leave mistakes unacknowledged, lessons unlearned.
And that is the greater failure.