As Memorial Day approaches, red, white and blue decorates our community. Walk into Wal-Mart, Dollar General, Food Giant or many other businesses and our nation’s colors are set up to remind us all of the upcoming holiday. Memorial Day is a day set aside for us all to remember the brave who fought and sacrificed their lives so that we could live in the land of the free.
So many times, we take that freedom for granted and forget how blessed we all are. We forget to honor the men and women who made it possible.
Thankfully, I have never lost a family member or friend due to fighting in a war. I had an uncle and a few cousins who enlisted and were away from home for many months and years. I missed them, but I don’t think I have ever been as greatly affected as I was recently.
Last year in January, my son’s father, Elijah, decided to enlist into the United States Marine Corps. When he told me what he had decided to do, I was instantly hit with panic. Different scenarios started to play in my head that made me fear for not only his life, but also my son’s and my life as well. What if our county went to war? What if he ended up having to live abroad? What if we get married ? Would I be ready to leave my family behind and live in a foreign country? I have visited my uncle who lived in Germany and I had an amazing time, but I was so very glad to return to United States soil. I didn’t know if I would be able to live there away from everything that I have always known.
Elijah calmed my frantic nerves and informed me that he would be enlisting as a reserved member at first so that he could finish school. So, he would still be home for the majority of the time and would only have to report one weekend out of each month and two weeks each summer. So, my life wouldn’t be changing too much, at least, not right away. So, I put on a brave face and chose to support him in his decision. Enlisting in the Marines was a great honor and I was super proud of him.
When it came time for him to leave for basic training, I comforted myself by thinking of all the other families that watched a loved one leave to fight a war. Unlike me, they didn’t really know where they were going, when they would see them again or if they would ever see them alive again at all. Yes, Elijah would be far away and for the first few months we would only be able to communicate through letters, but I knew exactly where he was going and I knew he wasn’t really going to be in any danger.
The first few months of us exchanging letters were hard. Sure, I had the support of my family and friends, but I missed Elijah. My son missed his father and he was too young to understand why he was gone. I cried some nights and the day of his return seemed to be a lifetime away. Obviously, I was being a drama queen, but they were the feelings I was having.
That experience was really an eye opener and it made me think more of all the men and women who had sacrificed their lives so that we could have our freedom. I think of the fathers/mothers away from their wives/husbands and children, missing birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. They will never be able to get those moments back. I think of the men and women who died fighting for that freedom. They laid down their lives for not just the people they loved, but also for complete strangers. How many of us can honestly say that we would give up our lives for a stranger? Joseph Campbell once said, “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” These people are our heroes who we should never forget to honor and remember.
So, as you prepare for Memorial Day this year, remember why we celebrate. Sure, the barbecues, picnics and sales at the stores are all nice, but this day is set aside so that we may honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be free. I didn’t lose Elijah in death, but in him being absent from our lives I was able to experience a very small piece of the sacrifices that were made. I'm only sorry that it took me so long to realize that.
For the families that lost a loved one and most importantly to the men and women who gave their lives for us, I thank you. President John F. Kennedy said,” As we express our gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. I hope and pray that our Memorial Day be a reflection of the sacrifices made by the heroes who made our freedom possible.