The Fall Days Of The Fallen And Their Survivors

I just published a post about two joyous days of Fall that my wife and I enjoyed this past weekend: Fall Days, Golden Fall Days.

I spent only a few minutes writing it. It was easy to do so since so many wonderful things happened that the post lept off my fingers, not needing any embellishment.

I hope you lived at least one, two, or more joyous Fall days recently, days even more joyous than the ones I have described.

We always need as much joy as we can get in this world, you and I. We all do.

But not all are so fortunate in getting that joy, hard as they may try.

Some are no longer with us, as is the case of SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay. His last Fall day came late in October a year ago, when he was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He became a Fallen Soldier Of The Fall.

I was reminded of this on this past Saturday morning. While returning from an errand downtown, I noticed a lot of traffic ahead of me on South King Street. I then saw a sign and learned the reason. Though usually held earlier in September, this was Chappaqua’s annual Community Day, so I decided to take a back route home, one that took me past the train station, so I could up the hill, and then make my way home via Route 117.

So I turned right at the main intersection downtown, on a route that took me past the dry cleaning business owned and operated by SSgt. Chay’s parents for many years. As I approach the train station I saw more traffic ahead, and as I passed under the railroad overpass I saw the reason — the rides and games that were formerly to be found in the field on front of Bell School were now around the traffic circle in front of the train station.

As I passed by the War Memorial, I looked back and saw Ssgt. Chay’s name on the south side. There were many laughing children and parents nearby, and I wondered how many of them would even see SSgt. Chay’s name that day, probably on a few. But I saw his name, and then regretted that I didn’t have my camera with me, so I could capture the scene.

I also realized that, had Ssgt. Chay returned from his service to our country in harm’s way on foreign shores, then he and his family would probably have settled in this area, and become but one of the many families that will attend Community Day in Chappaqua in the years to come.

There are three days each year that I know of when the town gathers in front of the train station. The first is a small affair in early May, the annual Garden Show. It is followed within a few weeks by Memorial Day, and four months after that comes Community Day.

Looking back, it was around then that I began composing of this post in my mind.

This morning I had an early appointment downtown. I took my camera and stopped by the War Memorial on the way home, looking for a view that would show signs of fall. Here it is:

Fall View of the Chappaqua War MemorialFall View of the Chappaqua War Memorial

Fall is my favorite season. I grew up in New Mexico, where the Fall season is beautiful in its way — especially the aspen trees — but is shorter and not as dramatic as in the Northeastern part of our continent — the Canadian Maritime Provinces and the United States from Maine down the Atlantic Coast — as only therein can be found the maple trees that give Fall a special majesty. The joyous Fall in the Northeast is one of the reasons I have lived in this region for over four decades: it would be hard to findd reasons that would make me move elsewhere as doing so, would deprive me of Golden Fall Days.

But Fall is also a time for reflection, both because it is the time each year when every Jew reflects on the year past, and the year to come, in the ten days between the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, a day that occurred this year on Friday, September 19th. (No single holiday — holy day — is as holly as the Sabbath, so the holiest day is not Yom Kippur itself, but any Sabbat; so having Yom Kippur fall on a Sabbath, as it did this year, makes it the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.”)

It also brings to me an added sadness in that my niece, Janet Perloff Fossett, died in late August, 2004; my father, Swanson Claude Shields, died almost ten years ago, on October 5, 1997. My rabbi for many years, Rabbi Chaim Stern, also died in the fall of September, 2001.

I am not alone in suffering a death in the family in the Fall. Ssgt. Chay’s family, especially his wife Cathy Min Chay –now the sole parent to the son he left behind — are I am sure thinking more and more each day about their loss as the first anniversary of his death approaches. I know they are not alone.

As are all the survivors of the over 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001.

And so I realized that, almost four months to day since Memorial Day, now was as good a time as any to announce a project that has been on my mind recently, as you will learn in a forthcoming post, “The Chay Project.”

We all know that each of the Fall Days yet to be lived by SSgt. Chay’s surviving family and friends will be diminished by his absence. He was still a young man of thirty-three when he died, so had he returned safely to our shores he would have enjoyed about fifty years of the Golden Fall Days that were his due.

But he didn’t make it back.

So it’s only fair that some of us should try to remember him and the other Fallen Soldiers who didn’t make it back, doing what we can to honor their memories and to encourage others to honor their memories, as doing so will help their survivors deal with the terrible — lifelong — burden that fate has placed upon their shoulders … and souls.

SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay, Janet Perloff Fossett, Lt. Swanson Claude Shields, Rabbi Chaim Stern, All the Victims of 9/11

May Their Memories Be A Blessing,

And may all offer their survivors as much support as we can in the coming fall days,

And in all the other days in the years to come.

Fall 2007,
david shields

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