Memorial day for a lot of people is the start of summer, a day of barbeques, and mattress sales. Traditionally, Memorial Day is a day we take the time to pay tribute to the men and women of the armed forces that have died in our nation’s service.
Here’s what I think about on Memorial Day.
Primarily, I think of my Dad on Memorial Day. My Dad died several years back. He served two tours of Vietnam in the Army, and lost his brother during the Tet Offensive. When he retired after 20 years of service, he still served in the defense industry as a civilian. After he retired again, he worked for another defense contractor helping to clear and dispose of unexploded ordnance across the country. He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I think of his military funeral on that misty morning, and seeing the still gaping hole in the side of the Pentagon from the 9/11 attacks. Dad, thanks for your service, and we miss you. I wish you had been able to meet your grandkids.
I think of my sister on Memorial Day. She served in the Air Force, and stayed on after her service as an instructor at the Defense Information School. While in the Air Force, she served as a combat videographer and did some amazing work. I haven’t seen her for years. She made a lot of sacrifices early on to follow in my Dad’s footsteps and serve her country. Sacrifices I never did or could make.
At the end of high school I intended to follow in my Dad’s footsteps. I had a nomination to West Point, intending to enter the Army. After much internal struggle, I pulled out at the last minute. Good or bad, I decided I wouldn’t do well in the military. I’ve always felt like it was a missed opportunity and that I let my Dad down.
The first time I felt the full scope of Memorial Day myself was when I was a teenager in the Boy Scouts. We lived in Germany, on a US Army base. My troop went to St. Avold France to camp in a WWII military cemetery, and put flags on the gravesites for Memorial Day. Not many people I know have been in a military cemetery, or have seen the thousands of white crosses rolling over the hills. The graves of young people that have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I spent a few days putting flags on graves, meeting veterans, and was chosen to help place a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier. It was a moving experience.
Of course, like many holidays, Memorial Day means different things to different people. This is merely what it means to me, and what I think about. I’ll be barbequing on Monday as well, as we used to do with my Dad. I may even be shopping for a new mattress. But I’ll have my American flag flying, and I will take the time to pause and think about those that sacrificed for me and my family, and for the rest of us that wouldn’t or couldn’t.
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