Sunday, May 29, 2016

How to Honor The Fallen on Memorial Day (even if you didn't know them.)

Let me start by saying, I should have always known what this day was about, but I didn't.

Both of my grandfathers served in the United States Air Force. Both of my grandmothers raised babies on their own while their husbands served their nation in a foreign place. My paternal grandfather still has evidence of a shrapnel wound from his time in Vietnam. (And I'm sure he has evidence of other wounds he tries to keep hidden.) My parents did not make a mistake by letting me celebrate and keep a bit of innocence on Memorial Day. I promise you, the "rough" men and women who sacrificed all they could for their country did so with things like family and togetherness in mind. Memorial Day was a day for me to feel proud of my country without really knowing why.

Then I married a soldier, and I figured the real meaning out pretty quickly.

My husband served exactly one month to the day of his commission before he lost a buddy during a training exercise. I was devasted--we all were--but mostly I felt shocked that I had never realized the inherent danger of my husband's job before that day. These guys weren't at war, but they were absolutely training the next group of young men to ready themselves against an enemy. They were serving a nation and a flag just the same, and the sacrifice was just as real.

A few months later, I encountered my first Memorial Day where I had a name and a face to focus on. And unfortunately, with more years of military service behind us, our family has only had more names to add to the list.
This is not an easy day, but it is such a necessary one.

You will undoubtedly hear a bunch of rhetoric reminding you to honor our fallen heroes. I realize that with all of the Internet noise, it is easy to scroll on through. (I know I'm guilty of this now and again.) But I hope that before you begin your regular festivities you take the time to read at least one of those reminders today, to pause, and to reflect. But if you are looking to do something more (because actions can indeed speak louder than words:)

-Pay respects to a nearby veterans cemetery. Many offer Memorial Day ceremonies with opportunities to lay wreaths or flags. This is an awesome way to educate your children (and maybe learn a thing or two yourself.)

-Reach out to a Gold Star family. "Gold Star family" is the term we use for family members who have lost a loved one during military service. If you know anyone who is surviving their service member, reach out to them directly and tell them you are thankful. Gold Star families just want to know that their hero is remembered. If you don't know anyone specifically but would still like to help, find an organization (like Gold Star Legacy) to express thanks, or even to donate to memorial and scholarship funds.

-Visit a memorial. Visit a park. Sit on a bench. Find shade beneath a tree. Look at a statue. Read an inscription. Be super grateful for the man/woman it was put there for.

-Support your troops. I know, I know. You've been told over and over not to thank a service member on Memorial Day. (It was most likely a service member who told you not to.) It is not their day, but these people are brothers of our fallen. It honors the dead to take care of the living--It just does. (There are literally hundreds, but quick plugs to what I think are worthy organizations: Fisher House Foundation; USO)

-Mount an American flag and shine a light on it. Wear red, white, and blue. Stand and face the colors when they are presented. Put your hand over your heart when you hear the National Anthem. You don't have to love everything about your country to be proud of it. Our nation is filled with fields of men and women who thought this country was worth dying for--flaws and all. Honor that today.

To those who never made it back home...
For the flag they fought to defend-
That they wore on their arm when they took their last breath-
Who now rest beneath that very flag.

May we always strive to be worthy of such heroes.