“Happy” Memorial Day

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I understand why you might think of or even say that phrase. But please, allow me to tell you why we who have served our country in the uniform of one or more of her armed forces, do not wish to ever hear that. It’s not necessarily a “happy” time.

And please, oh please, do not thank any of us for our service during this time.

The Sorrow

Many of America’s men and women deployed to different conflicts in foreign lands. Some came home in a flag-draped transfer case laden with their remains and dozens of pounds of ice. The memory of these men and women are what Memorial Day is all about.

June 18, 2016: The Memorial Wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC at dawn.

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department, a statement by the adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of 5 sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine that would attempt to beguile you of the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from rendering to you the consolation that may be found, in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have ever laid so costly a sacrifice upon the alter of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

The Joy

Maybe some still cannot fathom how anyone could have joy at a time that recalls so much sacrifice. But, there is a certain joy. A joy of thankfulness that someone would stand up to tyranny. Someone who runs toward the danger. Someone who sticks their neck out for others and risks everything.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

John 5:13

The Negative

I am aware of the arguments that condemn the actions of combat. That condemnation belongs to those “elite” who make and profit from war, not the average Soldier, Marine, Sailor, Airman, or Coast Guardsman. Their heart is in the right place when that individual raises their right hand and takes the Oath of Enlistment or the Oath of (Office) Commissioning. I am also aware that Pres. Lincoln was a fascist and not everything we learn in history is, shall we say, accurate.

However, now is not the time to protest wars or stand on the flag. You have the right to free speech and to be ungrateful, disrespectful, and communicate in a most idiotic fashion, but maybe just not this weekend. Families are in mourning.

The Positive

Many honor guard members render honors every day. It’s what we do and, for many, what we love. It’s not as though anyone is filled with glee at the announcement of a funeral. We seek and relish the opportunities to render honors to our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. It is a truly fulfilling experience every single time.

I retired from the US Air Force in 2005 after serving for 20 years. During my time, my specialties did not necessarily deploy except on very rare occasions. That has changed since my time in the service. I served overseas and stateside, but I never went into a battle zone, by the grace of our Lord and Savior. I was given the opportunity to render honors to my fallen brothers and sisters as an Air Force Ceremonial Guardsman at several locations around the world.

I have given folded flags to the next of kin, and stood for hours on end as a member of a color guard for wreath laying ceremonies and commemoration ceremonies at many American Cemeteries where tens of thousands of our men and women are buried: St. Mihiel Cemetery, France; Luxemburg Cemetery, Luxemburg; Ardennes, France; Flanders Field Cemetery, Belgium, Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, Belgium; Netherlands (Margraten) Cemetery, Netherlands; Brittany Cemetery, France; Normandy Cemetery, France; Somme Cemetery, France; and Oise-Aisne Cemetery, France; and countless ceremonies at various sites throughout Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, and even Germany.

To stand and stare at a sea of white crosses and stars was and still is humbling and the very least I could do to honor their memory.

All I’ve wanted to do is stand tall for them.

While the clip from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, is supposed to be emotional, the character saying to his wife, “Tell me I’ve led a good life, tell me I’ve been a good man” echoes a great deal of truth.

Have a wonderful weekend, enjoy the time with family and friends, and, if you would, even for just a moment, thank the fallen for their ultimate sacrifice. They believed they were protecting their friends and families and the future of our great nation and the free world.

The main picture is courtesy of my friend, former US Navy Ceremonial Guardsman Alec White who was a Casket Bearer with the Navy Ceremonial Guard in Washington, DC.

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