When I was a kid, Memorial Day to me was a weekend where Dad got to stay home an extra day, weekend when we opened our pool and planted our garden. Despite their best efforts to teach us about what Memorial Day really meant, it was hard for me to really comprehend it. My grandfather served in WWII, my Uncle was in the Air Force in the 70’s, but both survived. There was no close relative or friend who I knew who had gone away and HADN’T returned, no photo of that missing uncle or cousin, the grandparent who I knew only from stories, so despite my respect for veterans that my parents instilled in me and my siblings, it was a kind of an abstract concept for me for many years–in fact, well into my young adulthood.
It’s so different now. I still don’t have that relative or friend who hasn’t returned from a warfront, whether WWII or Afghanistan or Iraq, though I know many who are serving and have served our country in the current theaters. But working with veterans and listening to their stories, happy, sad, frightening, wistful, has opened a door into that world that I can no longer NOT see. I’ve seen Submarine Veterans who literally live with ghosts, and have for years, of friends who they took R&R with, who schooled with, who got on a different boat and simply vanished. In talking to Al Jacobson and Jim Alls of the Flier crew, and the relatives of the men who never returned, I’ve gotten to “know” in a little way, these men who were so bright an vibrant and have remained frozen in youthr decades now. It’s so easy, especially when we’re young and “immortal”, for us just to see old men who can’t stop telling stories about days long gone and a world that no longer exists…but when I finally listened, I got to see the 18 year old behind the wrinkles, the greying hair, the cane, and hearing aids…and I got to meet the men who are fading into the mist if we DON’T listen. Who had dreams, and families, and plans which never flowered…and my gratitude grew so much…and I’m so thankful.
So this Memorial Day, I’m still planting my garden with my kids, still celebrating the world my family and I are blessed to live in, but I do so with a thankful and sad heart that for some people, those who never returned, those who returned with struggles they did not have to bear, and those who bore their part at home. I have greater respect than ever (sadly, six years too late) for my own grandfather who fought with Patton through the African Theater into Italy and Berlin, and who never spoke of it. I wish I could tell him, what I say now: to anyone who has served, is serving, or will serve:
Thank you for putting your life and dreams on hold to live where you’re told, wear what you’re told, and work together to do something, and even die doing something so that I can live at home and not have to fear. Thank you for leaving your comfortable and familiar world to enter situations where life, death, and injury were sometimes a matter of luck, or seconds, or a few feet right or left. Thank you for being willing to experience horrors to keep them from us. Thank you for serving so I can live in a world where my biggest worries CAN revolve around the price of gas, and the quality of my children’s education, not if someone will invade and rape, murder, torture me or steal my food and house and children, like so many of my ancestors had to worry about for centuries, and many people around the world still do. Thank you for being some of the first on the scene in natural disasters here and around the world. Thank you for being among the first to build schools and help build in places blighted by violence and natural disasters. Thank you for not only protecting those of us you leave behind in America, but protecting and serving those people whom have little connection to your personal world before you joined, and whom you may never see again.
Our military, both individually and collectively, isn’t perfect. No human is, so no organization of humans can be. But when I watch all the branches of our military, and listen to those who are willing to talk, I see people who give their all, and do their best in situations that they are protecting me from. There are no snipers in my neighborhood. No warlords taking my daughter in lieu of food a drought won’t let me grow. No one putting a gun to my head and threatening me or my family unless we change our faith, or politics, or opinions. I will never have to choose between giving my children a good education at the risk of their lives…
And our men and women in uniform, past, present, and future, are a big part of the reason why.
So this Memorial Day, (as well as everyday) I want to say “Thank You” again. For just doing what you do the best that you can, in often difficult, dangerous, and uncomfortable situations.