This weekend is Memorial Day. While the civilian population sees it as a 3 day weekend, the start to summer, a reason to grill, we military families understand the true meaning. To remember our fallen, those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
A couple of weekends ago, I had the pleasure, (torture, whatever you’d like to call it when you’re traveling with 55 teenagers on 3 hours of sleep), of chaperoning my step-daughter’s class trip to Washington D.C. That is a blog in and of itself. What a wonderful experience (and finally a use for that history degree), to take these 13 & 14 year olds to our nation’s capitol for three days. Like I said, that’s a whole other story.
For about 2 months of the year, I am not the only girl in this house of boys. I have loved Emily since she entered my life at 2 1/2 years old. I dressed her for our wedding; she sat with me while I did my makeup, got dressed, and she walked down the aisle just before I did. Her 4 year-old self tore up that dance floor once I was officially her step-momma. But she’s always been somewhat distant from this way of life. She spends her whole summer with us, special holidays, whenever we could get her, but she’s missed so much. She wasn’t home when Jason got hurt, so she didn’t see his ravaged face, or watch me drain his wound every night like the doctors instructed. She wasn’t here when Jason left for his 2nd deployment, or his third. She missed flight school grad, and countless other military functions. So, it’s always been hard for her to really understand this way of life without being angry for the distance our family has to live from her. But we’re at Fort Drum, now, the closest an Apache Pilot can get to Dallas, PA, where her other family lives. Still, it’s just hard for her to understand this life. How do you make a 13 year-old girl understand that while yes, we make sacrifices for our country, ours is NOTHING compared to those who have given everything they had?
You take her to Arlington.
Rows upon rows upon rows of the dead. The soldier, the airman, the marine, the sailor. Those who gave their lives for the freedom of this nation are laid to rest there, among the shaded trees and sunny hills. It’s so overwhelming that it can almost desensitize you. We walked the paths, and once we were towards the middle, where all you could see were headstones, I stopped my little group of 4. “Do you see these headstones?” Of course they all nodded, I’d been playing “tour-guide” for 3 days. “For every headstone you see, there is a soldier who gave his life for this country, so you would have the freedom to come here.” I related it to them the only way I knew how. “For every tombstone, there is a wife like me, a daughter like Emily, Sons like her brothers. For every headstone, there is a broken-hearted mother, a crushed father, and lives that are ripped apart from grief. You’re standing in the middle of hundreds of thousands of heartbreaks.”
They were silent, except for the teenage “whoa’s” They visited the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where I had to correct Emily that it was most certainly NOT a Marine guarding the Tomb. 😉 That’s a United States Soldier! 😉 They saw JFK’s tomb, the mast of the USS Maine, where they were shocked when I announced “Hey, this baby started a war!” I keep forgetting when US History is taught. They visited the Challenger memorial, and finally Section 1 to pay their respects to those who got us here.
When we were walking alone, I turned to my 13, going on 29 girl and asked her softly, “do you get it? Do you understand what all of these people gave to you?”
She nodded and humbled me. “I’m thankful, and I’ll never marry someone on the military.”
I got it. I looked at my little girl and knew that she understood the price these men had paid. The price that we both could so easily be forced to pay if our door is ever knocked on. I wasn’t insulted by her admission, I was relieved. As much as I adore this life, and I love my husband, I don’t want this for her. I want an easier life for her that doesn’t involve the constant prayer that your husband just comes home safely. I looked at those tombstones that surrounded us, laid with a military precision that was dauntingly beautiful, and all I could really feel was the tears of their loved ones as they gripped folded flags. So much grief mingled with such overwhelming pride. It’s a stunning tribute to our Fallen.
So as for me, I spent Memorial Day with my parents, both retired army officers. I thought about my grandfathers who both served and gave years and blood for this country. I grieve for the soldiers I watch get listed every day on icasualties. I weep for the wives of the pilots we’ve lost in the last 6 weeks while I simultaneously pray that mine will not be next. I did two very special cakes this weekend. One was in the place of another decorator who’d lost her husband to a helicopter crash last month. The other was for a girl celebrating her first birthday since her dad had been killed in action nearly a year ago. These families, these soldiers are the true meaning of Memorial Day. I rise to my feet, tip my hat, and place my hand over my heart for these heroes, and they families they have left behind.
God bless you all, and thank you for your sacrifice.
Mine is the cutie in the gray and pig-tails. The guy next to her is her “boyfriend.” I reminded him that her father flies an Apache attack helicopter loaded with hellfire missiles, and yes, he kills people for a living…. Gotta scare ’em young. 😉