Now I Understand Veterans Day in a Different Way

Memorial Day
Memorial Day

Around noon today I called a man on his cell phone. If I had known where he was at the time, I would have waited until tomorrow.

The man's name is John Dowd.

I interviewed him last week for my podcast about his 1989 investigation of Pete Rose. .

His 225 page Dowd Report resulted in Rose's banishment from baseball.

Our conversation led to Dowd's fascinating past.

Before the baseball assignment, John Dowd spent many years in the Justice Department, as a prosecutor leading the battle against the Mafia.

And before that, after graduating from Emory Law School, in 1965, Dowd had an opportunity to get a pass on the draft. Instead, he enlisted in the Marines.

His brother, Tom, was serving in Vietnam as a Marine Lieutenant. Dowd grew up in a family that has a long history of military service.

His father joined the Navy during World War Two at the age of 35, when he had four children.

"He was 6 foot 6 and a half. He wanted to be a submariner, if you can imagine, but they said he was too tall, so he helped run the Boston Navy Yard."

Then there were the uncles.

"Joe Francis, who was Navy Army Medical Corps, Jim was an Artillery Officer who landed in the second wave at Omaha Beach, Dennis was a Naval fighter pilot. So I was surrounded, at a very young age, by men who just stepped up. I'm growing up with these stories of these extraordinary men."

Two of John Dowd's five children are Marines. He is immensely proud of them. At the same time:

"I have never felt so helpless in my life than when I had each son in war. It's just an awful feeling."

Around noon today, I contacted John Dowd to tell him that the podcast we did together was online. No answer at his office. No response from his email. So I called him on his cell phone. He picked up.

"I'm at Arlington Cemetery," he said. He didn't need to say any more.

John Dowd has a lot of people to visit at Arlington National Cemetery.

First and foremost, his brother, Tom.

"Tom was part of the Second Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, which is one of the great battalions in the history of the Marine Corps."

Tom Dowd never made it home from Vietnam.

"Dad was a grieving Irishman, and he felt responsible for Tom's death"

And their mother?

"My mother was the strongest person I ever knew in my life .... At breakfast the morning we were gonna bury Tom, one of my relatives said to my mother, 'you know, Mary, I never see you cry.' And she didn't say anything .... And later on, when we were at the cemetery, and she had the flag, I asked her. I said, 'Mom, you didn't say anything when they mentioned you didn't cry, and I haven't seen you cry, and you didn't cry when they gave you the flag.' And she told me that she refused to cry in public. But, she said, 'when I'm alone with my pillow at night, you know, I do my crying.'"

I imagine this day, Veterans Day, is in some respects like any other day for the parents who have lost their children at war.

There are mothers and fathers who refuse to cry in public but who, at night, alone with their pillows, will do their crying.