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Memorial Day

May 28, 2017 - 3 comments

I remember talking about Memorial Day and Veterans Day in high school.  It wasn't until 3-4 years later some 28 years ago that I fully understood the difference between the two days of remembrance.  

I live in a small tourist town.  A lot of the action around here takes place around the Town Square.  I had the day off and was running around town taking care of a few errands when I happened upon a gathering at the Town Square.  I parked the truck and walked towards the gathering.  I kind of filtered in through the group that was loosely assembled and found a spot that appeared to be front and center.

There was a podium set up in front of a memorial plaque in honor of all of the area residents that never made it home from the wars.  To my right stood a very stoic gentleman in his mid 70's if I had to guess.  He was dressed in his Air Force military dress uniform.  It appeared to fit about as good that day as it must have fit decades earlier.  His jacket was adorned with medals and ribbons, none of which I knew the meaning.  The mans hair was high and tight, he was freshly shaved and looked as if he were ready to go at a moments notice.

Across and to my left stood another gentleman.  He was about the same age and was wearing a different uniform.  In front of him was his wife who was gently tugging at his lapels and brushing some debris from his jacket, making sure that he was squared away.  Other men and women in uniform began to assemble.  Civilians did as well.  As the group grew to around 200-250 people, the Honor Guard presented the flag.  Everyone in attendance snapped to attention but it was easy to pick the military folks from the civilians.  The military people in attendance eye's were glued to Old Glory.  They stood a little straighter and a little taller than the rest of us.  As the Honor Guard took its place near the podium, a gentleman began to speak.

I have to admit, I don't recall a single thing this man said.  I was taken by the moment.  I don't remember feeling anything but awe as I stood among these military men and women.  I had my hat in my hands.  I looked at the ground for a minute in an attempt to bring myself back to what was currently happening.  The gentleman to my right had a gaze on his face that didn't look as if it changed from the moment I first locked eyes on him.  The other gentleman to my left had the same look, standing at attention.

Again, I looked down and then surveyed the crowd.  At that moment, I knew I was witnessing something profound.  Another man took the podium and began reading the names of the people memorialized on that plaque.  As he did so, the gentleman to my left bowed his head for a brief moment.  The man to my right took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.  In each of their eyes, you could watch the emotions well up.  And still, their eyes were locked in on the flag.

I've tried to recall some of what the speakers said.  Either some of the names or some of the content before the names were read, but I can't do it.  At the end of the memorial, there was a 21 gun salute (or something similar) and then we were all adjourned.  

I looked across the group to the gentleman and his wife.  She was staring in his eyes as she took his arm.  The gentleman to my right turned on a dime and began to walk away and as he did so, a kid much younger than myself reached his little hand up to the old man and said, "Thank you for your service, sir."  The old man nodded, smiled slightly and said, "You don't need to thank me.  We're hear to thanks those people on that plaque" and he slowly but steadily walked away.

What I felt at that moment was very profound.  Although I knew the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I had never witnessed the difference.  Since that day, regardless of what I think politically or what I think about our being involved in foreign wars, I can't help but do what I can to honor those individuals on that plaque and all of the other people just like them.

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of me starting my genealogy research.  I was adopted at birth.  I have managed to track down my biological mothers side of the family but have not been able to track down my biological father, yet.  In what was called "non-identifying information" given to me after I appealed to the adoption agency that facilitated my adoption, it is stated that my biological father was K.I.A in the Vietnam conflict.  (It was common in those days for this to happen.  Many did die, but it was easier for a pregnant, unwed mother to state that her boyfriend had been KIA in order to speed up the adoption process.)  Just once I would have liked to look this man in the face and see if he had the same look.

With that said, my adoptive family had many who served their nation.  They did have that look and I am proud to have known them.  Now, most of them are gone but to honor them, I will spend my day tomorrow remembering them, their efforts and what they meant to me in my life as well as the people like the two gentlemen I mentioned above.

Peace be with you all.

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649848 tn?1484935765
by Barb135, May 28, 2017
Thank you, Brice, for the reminder that this isn't just a 3 day weekend; Memorial Day has a very distinct purpose and all too often, it's forgotten.  

There are/were many in my family, too that served the country, fighting in various wars to help preserve our freedom. Fortunately, they all came home safely; it's too bad everyone couldn't have.

Where I come from in the midwest, in one of the towns, the VFW and American Legion decorated the cemetery with American flags - they called it "Avenue of Flags" and it would be so majestic with the flags billowing in the wind.  Veterans would march down the Avenue of Flags, then they would have a ceremony to honor fallen military personnel on Memorial Day.  As I read your description of the men's faces, I could see various people I know/knew at some of the ceremonies I've attended.  Those expressions must be universal, because they sound so familiar... I remember seeing that emotion in my Dad's eyes during ceremonies and I remember him saying that it wasn't he who was a hero for having fought; the heroes were the ones who didn't come home.

It always sent a shiver of pride through me whenever I'd see that Avenue of Flags... they don't do that here and I don't even know where Memorial Day ceremonies are being held, though they probably have them - they just don't advertise them to the general public. I miss that.

Brice, good luck with genealogy search.  I hope you find what you're looking for.  

I hope everyone has a safe Memorial Day.

Avatar universal
by brice1967, May 29, 2017
Thanks Barb.  The genealogy research is a real trip.  I basically had nothing to go on when I set out.  Tested my DNA with 2 different outfits and loaded those results to a site called gedmatch.com.  One day I was following an interesting lead.  It appears that most of my relatives were out of the south and I found one guy listed as being in Leavenworth, KS.  I thought, that is weird... they guy never married and is the only person I can find in Kansas.  Turns out, he didn't live there but was there in prison.  (Maybe that explains a few things...)  So, you never know what you are going to find.  I prepared myself for everything and so far its all been happy hunting.

Back to the original topic.  I've watched this progression of misunderstanding Memorial Day through my life.  People I thought would know better have no clue.  Some of the younger generation simply think of it as a day off.  No matter what your political beliefs are and no matter what you think of our being involved in foreign wars, these brave men and women believed in the cause or were called to duty and fulfilled their obligation.  

It's no mystery to me why so many of our veterans are against foreign wars.  I wish there was a way around being involved but when you appoint yourself as the worlds watchdog, you're likely to be involved in any conflict, great or small, around the globe.  These folks come back in various states of disrepair, hopeless and some feel helpless.  "Survivor guilt" is something that I have done a bit of research on.  I let all of my military friends know that I do know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day and allocate my gratitude respectfully on each holiday.

I do think we'd be nothing without our military.  I just wish there was a way to do without violence of any sort.  Just a pipe dream, I guess.

Best to you and yours.

495284 tn?1333897642
by dominosarah, May 30, 2017
I remember as a little girl standing next to my dad who had that very same look as the 2 gentlemen that you described.  My brother and i learned at an early age the difference between the 2 holidays.  I was a military brat and i still am.  We learned proper etiquette when Old Glory would go by.  I see people now at parades and i just cringe when caps arent taken off or a hand isnt placed over your heart.  We were taught to respect that flag.  My dad is listed among the Avenue of Flags, a very humbling sight.  The poppy wreath was also a very stunning sight as it was thrown into the water in memory of all the lives lost at sea.  The 21 gun salute and taps always brings tears to my eyes.  Grandma always had a picnic planned after we visited and decorated the grave sites of relatives.  Memorial day is for remembering and i am so glad you stopped and witnessed such a special time~

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