With all the craziness of the past couple of months, it seems hard to believe that summer is almost upon us once again. As a kid, the sure sign that summer for me beginning was the annual Memorial Day parade in my home town of Findlay, Ohio. We would be lined up along the parade route in our red, white and blue outfits, waving flags and cheering as the military vehicles with veterans rumbled by. Our parade ended at the community cemetery where ceremonies took place honoring those who sacrificed everything for each of us.
Then we would go with our parents and walk through the cemetery, looking for the graves marked with military symbols to lay a flower as a symbol of our thanks. As children, we didn’t really get the somberness of the occasion; the bright blue sky, warm temperatures, patriotic music wafting through the breeze, and the promise of a cookout when we got home made it all seem a little like a day at the park.
My uncle, who was rarely home, accompanied us one year when he was in town on leave. He was a Master Sargent in the Army and had served five tours in Vietnam. It was that visit when my brothers and I finally understood what this day was really all about. Uncle Lee came to the parade in his full uniform. A rather gruff and stern guy, we were pretty much terrified of him. He had strips on his sleeve that went almost down to his wrists and his chest was covered in medals. I still don’t know what they were all for….but I do know they represented many acts of bravery.
When we got to the cemetery part of the event, he walked off with a sense of purpose. I remember watching his back – rigid and straight – as he took purposeful steps away from the crowd. A little while later, my brothers came up on him as he stood at a fairly fresh grave site. He was saluting and while he was wearing sunglasses to cover his eyes, I saw a tear that was rolling down his cheek. He heard us, turned toward us and “commanded” as only he could do – that we come and stand with him. As we sheepishly gathered around him, he took his arms and drew us close. He told us that this was the final resting spot of a fellow soldier that had been missing in action and was only recently recovered. He told us of the battle where he had been lost and of the painful time his family had waiting to know of his fate. And then he told us that this was sometimes the cost of freedom and how important it was that we understood that price.
I will never forget that moment with Uncle Lee. Every time I see a uniform, I say thanks. As a MOM (Mom of a Marine) and the mom of an Army son, I know personally a little of the sacrifice our warriors give every day for all of us. So, in spite of all the other craziness that has surrounded us this last couple of months, let us not forget about the real meaning of Memorial Day. Join me in celebrating our freedom and commemorating those that had to pay the ultimate price to protect it. As an American, I know the debt I owe them….and am deeply grateful.