On the Memorial Day weekend, here's a question:
What if you wanted to forget the death of a soldier or of a veteran who served this country?
Not a death in combat, but a shameful death in the man's home just a few weeks shy of his 96th birthday, shot down like a dog by police. If you wished to forget such a death, what would you do?
You'd want to write the official account on water so the words would float away. Or, carve it on sand, so the words of what happened would crumble and disappear.
However, if you wanted to remember, then you'd keep a permanent official public record, a collection solid and immovable, a file with all circumstances and facts, for the public to witness.
But that's not what's happened to the case of John Wrana, the 95-year-old World War II veteran killed by police whom I've told you about.
Because the case of the suburban police officer who shot the old man down — firing five powerful 12-gauge bean bag rounds into Wrana's gut from just a few feet away — has been removed.
Craig Taylor, the Park Forest police officer who shot Wrana with that police shotgun, was acquitted. And now the court file has been wiped clean.
It's been expunged.
Expungement is defined by Webster's as "to strike out, obliterate, or mark for deletion," but I think the third definition is most apt:
"To eliminate (as a memory) from one's consciousness."
Just say it out loud and you can almost smell the disinfectant in the air, like at a hospital or county morgue, a smell sterile and cold.
There's nothing illegal about asking for an expungement. And I can see why Taylor, through his talented and experienced lawyer Terry Ekl, would want it done.
A man who faces criminal charges and beats them doesn't want to be hounded by them.
Sometimes an expungement can take years. But this one didn't take long at all.
Just three months and one day after Associate Cook County Judge Luciano Panici acquitted Taylor of felony reckless conduct at the courthouse in Markham, the court record was wiped.
Again, I'm not saying anything was wrong with the procedure. The news stories remain and my columns. There's a trial transcript somewhere held by court reporters. There's a pending federal lawsuit. And there are official death and autopsy records in the morgue.
The official records aren't in one file. They're scattered.
What's happened is that the state's belief that police wrongly killed that old man has disappeared. It's been stripped from our official memory.
But this is the Memorial Day weekend, the time for remembering, when we visit the cemeteries and pray for our dead and plant flowers around the gravestones and stick pinwheels in the grass.
We'll listen to taps and see the flags flying. The politicians will bustle out of their parade convertibles and rush to the microphones to make speeches about duty and honor and sacrifice.
They are often loud, these politicians, and they honor themselves easily.
They name public buildings after each other and public streets and public parks. They make certain to mark their territory in life.
The dead are silent. And the rest of us observe our rituals and later we'll light fires and burn meat and drink beer and call it a day.
But on Memorial Day I'm going to take a few moments to think of Wrana.
His plane went down in flames in Burma in WWII. He ran a business. He outlived his beloved wife. He was one tough old guy, a little jockey or an old featherweight, all 5 feet 5 inches of him, and he lived in the Victory Centre assisted living facility in south suburban Park Forest.
He drove until almost the end. He liked a drink on occasion, and he liked to play cards. And then came that suspected urinary tract infection and symptoms of paranoia.
He refused treatment. The cops were called. He waved a shoehorn and police thought it was a machete. He waved a knife and said he would kill them if they didn't leave him alone.
And they said they were afraid for their lives. Five young, strong cops against a tiny old man who could barely stand. And they shot him down and later, he bled to death from the inside.
Wrana wasn't a deadly warrior. He was an old man who was so frail that he had to leave a casino dice game during a winning streak a few days earlier because he couldn't stand on his feet.
Looking at his photos, the young man in uniform, the old gent in his mid-90s raising a scotch and soda and half winking at the camera, here's the sense I get:
He was an old guy who used after-shave. An old guy who kibitzed when he gambled, I can almost hear him wisecracking, dealing the cards, "Black Mariah says queens for Tom, and here's crap for Dick, and jack spit for Harry with his pair of twos."
He was an old guy who wanted to live. And they knocked that out of him with those shotgun blasts.
I didn't want Taylor to go to prison. But the acquittal allows him to remain as a police officer, and the others, too, including their supervisor.
The expungement makes it almost seem like it never happened. And no one is accountable.
The case has been wiped clean, our public, official memory of the charges are void.
For John Wrana, it all might as well have been written on water.