I spent part of this morning rereading some of the newspaper columns I wrote years ago in the days leading up to Memorial Day. Two in particular tugged at my heart.

One of them was from when our son was in the Marines during the war in Iraq. That’s where he spent Memorial Day that year.

The other was from a year later. The Iraq War was still going on, and our son was still in the Marines. But he was on leave, and would be coming home for the Memorial Day weekend.

As you might imagine, there was quite a different mood and tone between the two columns. But there were some thoughts in common, too. In both of them, I mentioned how I always remind myself of the real significance of Memorial Day, which is not picnics, parades, and backyard barbecues, or the unofficial start of summer. Instead, it’s about remembering and honoring those who gave their lives in service to our country.

Until my son was in the military, Memorial Day always evoked images of people gathered together in a group at the cemetery, paying tribute to those who died long ago. I envisioned older women huddled against the drizzling rain, and men with silvery-white hair standing at attention next to them, reliving their own memories of the war. Younger family members would be looking on sadly, feeling sorrow over people they barely remembered, or never knew.

Now, however, different images came to mind for me. Not just of soldiers from World War II or Korea, but of 18- and 20-year-olds who had graduated from high school just a year or so ago. Young men wearing fierce expressions and the same formal dress uniform my son was wearing in his official Marine photo.

It’s been more than 15 years since I wrote those columns. My son is in his 30s now, his military service long behind him. But my Memorial Day memories are still strong, as I know they are for everyone who ever lost a loved one on the field of battle, and also for those whose loved ones were able to return home to them safely.

It’s important for all of us, every Memorial Day, to remember those who died defending our country and our freedom. It’s also important for us to honor and offer our prayers and gratitude to those who are living and serving in the military right now – especially those men and women who are far from home while the rest of us are safe and secure, celebrating and enjoying our picnics, parades, and backyard barbecues.

May we never forget that without them, we would not have a holiday to celebrate this weekend. Or the freedom to do so.

May 29, 2021
©Betty Liedtke, 2021

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