I’m not one to “recycle” posts, but last Memorial Day I wrote a post on my blog that I plan to re-post each year. Memorial Day 2010 was the first Memorial Day in which I truly understood the meaning of the day and I know it will serve me well to re-read, re-share and re-think my experience every year.
Memorial Day, 2010–I wanted to post something for Memorial Day this morning, but to be honest, I couldn’t think of the right words. Even as I write this, I don’t know if I’ve found them, but I feel I really have to share what I just experienced.
Frank, his buddy from recruiting duty, Manny, and I attended the Memorial Day ceremony at the Veteran’s Cemetery here in Jacksonville this morning. It was hot and we didn’t have great seats, and I almost started to complain to Frank. Before I could, though, the ceremony started. They presented the colors, we said the Pledge of Allegiance and somebody sang the National Anthem. And then a Corpsman gave a speech. He was young, but wise way beyond his years. I wish they would have given out a copy of what he said. I don’t think I will ever forget it. I was holding back tears when I looked across the aisle, at the two Vietnam Veterans, both with Purple Hearts, who were wiping tears from their faces. And in front of me, more Veterans, some with Purple Hearts, one with a Navy Cross, all of them, crying. And as I took in the moment, for the first time in my life witnessing “war-hardened” men, breaking down in sadness for their brothers and sisters who couldn’t be with us today and wiped my tears, Frank leaned over and put his head on my shoulder and he was weeping.
I’ve never seen Frank cry. We’ve talked about what he’s seen, about his fallen friends, and the response I usually get is “War is Hell.” Today, surrounded by the men and women who fight and have fought for our freedom, it finally hit me.
I feel like until today, I’ve never really understood the true meaning of Memorial Day. I was far removed from the military until I met Frank and I would like to say that is my excuse, but let’s be honest, there is no excuse. Memorial Day was always about picnics and the start of summer. Even last year, when I should have gotten it, I was too absorbed in missing Frank and feeling bad for myself to really “get” it. I never really took the time to realize that for so many, this day is in honor of the ultimate sacrifice.
For the first time in my life, while surrounded by men and women who have seen war and its aftermath, while holding the hand of the man I love, who shed tears for his friends that are no longer with us, I got it. When they read Cpl. Jonny Porto’s name and the bell rang for him, it was real. It wasn’t about hot dogs and beer and cakes made to look like the American flag with strawberries and blueberries. It was about real people. Real heroes. Real sacrifices. Real families who were left behind. Real brother’s in arms who will forever have to bear the burden of being the ones who survived and were witnesses to the untimely death of their brothers.
The Corpsman said that he thinks his friends who have fallen would be happy to know that Memorial Day is celebrated with beer and family and sales at the mall and the excitement that summer has begun. They enjoyed beer and their children and playing football on the beach and fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice so we could enjoy these things. And, he said, that although he knows they wouldn’t want a somber day of mourning, because that isn’t why they laid down their lives for us, they would probably appreciate being remembered for just one minute out of the day.
I’ve never heard it put like that, but it makes so much sense.
I’m still not sure I’ve found the right words. I don’t have a poetic line to leave you with about Memorial Day. I would just encourage, no, ask you, to raise your beer sometime today, while you are enjoying your family and friends at the local picnic, for the one’s who gave everything so we could enjoy the freedom of this great country.