Memorial Day always makes me a bit unsure. It’s a day I believe America, and those thankful for the help of America’s Military, should celebrate. I believe it’s a day of far more importance than we credit it with, but wishing someone a Happy Memorial Day always makes me cringe just a little bit.
My ex-husband witnessed the attacks in NYC on 9-11. I know what his coming home later that terrible day was like. I know what the months and years following that horrific day were like. I know how that one day changed our lives forever.
I cannot imagine anyone wishing us a, “Happy 9-11” and so, while I understand the sentiment of honoring those who gave their all for us by our being happy, wishing someone a “Happy Memorial Day” also makes me cringe just a bit.
I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for a Military spouse or Mother, Father, sibling, or child to watch their loved one walk away, not knowing if they’ll ever see him or her again. I can’t imagine receiving the news that no family wants to hear. I can’t imagine the days and weeks, months and years that follow The Day.
It’s also not just those lost in battle that we mourn. Every day, 22 US Veterans take their own lives, a direct result of PTSD few of us understand. That’s one human being lost every 65 minutes. That means by the time I finish writing this we will have lost another American hero. Right now, it is 6:06 Sunday morning, May 29, 2016. How many have we lost between the time I’m writing this and the time you’re reading it?
I remember those days and nights after my husband returned home. Shaking. Crying. Cussing. Anger. Fury. Fear. No matter what I did, it wasn’t enough. No matter what I did, he let me know that since I hadn’t been there, I couldn’t understand. He was right, but it didn’t mean I didn’t try. It didn’t mean I didn’t want to understand. It didn’t mean I wasn’t hurting, scared, angry, lost, lonely, and afraid too.
I can’t even imagine what that time was like for him. He can’t imagine what that time was like for our boys or me.
As difficult as those years were, none of us can begin to imagine what life is like for a returning Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine. None of us can imagine what life is like for those who love them.
I’ve always been grateful for our law enforcement and especially for our Military. My Grandfather is a retired NYC police officer and a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy, and he is my hero. He was a pilot over Japan and has stories that are funny and tender, but every once in a while, I ask him something that makes the sparkle in his eye change, deepen and darken just a bit.
I remember the first time it happened. I was probably in high school or college and reading a book about the USS Indianapolis. The book made me want to cry and stand tall at the same time. I read of so many Good Men lost and about Man after Man who hung in there, day after day. I imagined what happened when the few remaining were finally, finally, rescued. I wondered how they managed to wake up every morning and continue another day.
I asked my Grandfather if he knew about the event. Times were different then. There was no internet, no quick relay of gory details that should never be made known to the world, details that should never be experienced by one of God’s children even on the battlefield. The light in my Grandfather’s eyes changed as he told me he did know the story, that everyone knew the story.
And I wondered how I hadn’t known?
How had this big chunk of history been forgotten? Why had it never been taught in our schools? What was more important, and who determined what defined “values education” when values education left out things like this. These Men portrayed values students should hear about when instead they hear about bravery in transgender issues and freedom of the pro-choice movement, when they are constantly told about what is wrong with America and how drinking the Kool-Aid will fix the problems of the world.
That change in the light of my Grandfather’s eyes happened again recently when someone mentioned the A-6 Intruder to me and I asked him about it. My Grandfather is older now. Since Christmas, he’s broken three ribs and a hip and fractured his spine. He sleeps more than he used to, and we don’t spend the weekends at his house like I have looking back as far as I can remember.
Carrying on a conversation is a lot of work for Gramps some days, but when I asked him about the A-6 Intruders a couple of months ago, there was a spark. He again had that darkened light in his eyes. He was in a lot of pain then, but he opened his eyes and spoke to me a little about the bravery of those who had flown this plane. He called them “torpedo bombers” and said they were the bravest out there. I saw the awe and respect and that something else in his eyes too.
I’ve since looked up the A-6 Intruder and its role in WWII and think the A-6 may have been introduced later than WWII. I wish I knew more. I wish I’d taken time years ago to understand so much of history that will be soon lost. I wish I knew what torpedo bombers my Grandfather was envisioning when his eyes darkened like that. I wish a lot of things…
My Grandfather is almost 94. The changes he’s seen are almost unimaginable, but one thing I know for sure is that America has been a big part of the changes the world has seen. I also know that, despite a few slips, horrible to those who were victimized by them, the changes America has brought to the world are Good.
And those changes are not possible without people willing to stand up and fight for others. Those changes are not possible without the sacrifice of a few for the many.
So Much We Don’t Know on Memorial Day
We cannot know what those Men and Women who serve experience day in and day out, night after night. We cannot know what those who have made the Ultimate Sacrifice faced in their final moments or what their loved ones deal with in the moments they hear the news or in the decades of missed anniversaries, empty places at Thanksgiving dinner, or the loss of a friend to laugh with, a shoulder to share burdens, and a hand to hold as the sun sets.
We cannot know anymore than I could have understood exactly what was going on in my husband’s mind after 9-11 or he in mine, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. It doesn’t mean we enjoy a Happy Memorial Day by simply getting the best deal on a new outfit or barbecuing with friends in the backyard.
Instead, we can use our knowledge to honor those Men and Women who have paid the Ultimate Sacrifice for our freedoms. We can let them know of our Love for them.
This Memorial Day, please take the time to stop and think about where the world would be without these Heroes. Stop and think about where your Family would be without these Heroes. Stop and think where you would be without these Heroes.
This Memorial Day observe a Moment of Silence at 3pm. This Memorial Day attend a parade, say a Prayer, visit a VA Hospital, reach out to a homeless Vet, maybe sit with him on the side of a road and listen to his stories. Find out all the things you don’t know. Call a friend who may feel alone and not know you care and let him know you do. Take the time to attend a Military funeral if there’s ever one you can get to. Sacrifice and make the time to be there without being self-conscious, afraid, or unsure. Help to line the streets, to attend a Mass if it’s open, to just say thank you.
We cannot replace who is lost, but we can use the gift of freedom, given to us by those who serve, and the gift of free will, given to us by God, to make the best of every moment, every day. Make today a Happy Memorial Day and be thankful for all you don’t know.
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