Growing up, Memorial Day marked the start of another hazy, humid, and hot summer on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Some years my family went to an Orioles’ game, other years we went sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, and sometimes we just stayed home to avoid the tourist crowds that would swarm into our colonial town. One thing I never did – perhaps because I was never taught the real significance of this holiday – was remember those servicemen and servicewomen who have given their lives for our freedom.
I remember the first time the purpose of the day really struck me. It was 2006, as I was spending the summer working in Baltimore and preparing for my senior year in college. I had been dating my boyfriend (now husband) for two years, and for the first time we had started to decide that we were going to continue our relationship through whatever adventures post-college life brought us. That Memorial Day, it was a Baltimore Sun article, which described two men whose wives found out their husbands had died on a previous Memorial Day, that got me. Sitting there in the coffee shop, I burst into tears. I begged my boyfriend never to deploy, and to promise me that he would never do anything dangerous. I begged him not to be a hero in any situation that seemed dangerous. I begged him to remember me, and all of those people who loved him at home.
How did my boyfriend react? First, he gave me an embarrassed look because I was breaking down for no apparent reason in a coffee shop. Second, he gave me an embarrassed look because he had yet to be commissioned in the Marine Corps, and was still a mere military academy student, proving my breakdown to be more dramatic than it was legitimate. Third, he told me, if and when he was in a dangerous situation, he would get his job done, but that I shouldn’t spend my days worrying what the consequences may be.
This response is not unique; in fact, it’s the norm among our servicemembers. It is this intense loyalty, both to family and to country that should be recognized and remembered on this holiday. Now that six years have passed since that coffee shop moment, I have more than one friend who has lost a spouse, and can’t think of anybody but them on this day of BBQs and baseball. But while it is a sad day, it should be one of pride. I have learned this more from my friends who have lost loved ones to war than anyone else. While they are still healing, they note that tears turn into reminiscent smiles, and worry turns into pride. These feelings are what our servicemembers would truly want us to remember on this holiday in May.