It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the United States. Some will look at this weekend as an opportunity to have a picnic, BBQ or long camping weekend. I’m definitely one of those who look at this long weekend as an opportunity to relax, kick back and get together with others for a cook out.
But that’s not what it’s about, at least to my mind. Memorial Day for me is an opportunity to remember all who have served our country. And it becomes very personal.
Like many of you I have an abundance of family who have served in one branch of the military or another. My grandfather was Army, my father was Army, father-in-law Navy, I could go on and on about the uncles and cousins in various branches of the military. Thinking of each of these people puts a face to the sacrifices that come to mind.
Most of all when I think about service, I think about so many of the little boys and girls who grew up in my neighborhood and have gone on to serve.
The beautiful girl from across the street is making a successful career out of protecting the rest of us with the Air Force. The sweet, blond boy from down the block is one of our amazing Navy Seals. The ‘Dennis the Menace’ of our neighborhood, with the infectious grin and a million plots to carry out is serving with the Army. One of the boys is this very week finishing his paperwork to complete his stint with the Marines. At the same time, a boy who is so close to our family that we consider him another son is planning his send-off party as he looks forward to becoming a proud member of the Air Force in October. Of course, there’s the little boy who grew up in my house, right here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My son Billy spent six years in the Air Force, serving as Special Forces.
As an adult, when I think of my grandparents, uncles, cousins and even the friends who are my own age who have served our country it seems completely logical, appropriate and something that I deeply appreciate and understand.
Different, more complicated emotions surface when I think about the boys and girls who I have watched grow up, go on to take up a position to protect me and mine. These kids used to eat cookies in my kitchen, come to me for a hug when their feelings were hurt and offer bone crushing hugs when they were happy. I know in every cell of my being that each and every one of these kids went into service for all of what I consider to be the right reasons.
I knew each of these kids well before they left for service. They spent long hours talking with their parents, veterans who have served for years and reservists who continue to serve. None of them went into service with their eyes closed.
As they have come back to Milwaukee over the years I have been pleased to see that the twinkle is still in the eye, the grins still flash quickly and each one of them is willing to play at the drop of a hat. But it’s also easy to see that these kids have become strong men and women. They take responsibilities more seriously than many others of their age. They make decisions quickly and surely. Each and every one of them is a confident, competent individual. Their experiences have added shadows to their eyes, a few premature wrinkles on a few and definitely a bit more weight to their shoulders.
I know that each and every one of them has trained for events that I don’t even like to consider. Most of them have seen the ugliest side of humanity, which may well be why they offer a bit more compassion than some. My own son served a year in South Korea, followed by three tours in Iraq. I know it wasn’t easy for him to be so far away from family and friends. But I also know that he made strong bonds that will last a lifetime, many of those bonds much stronger than those with any family could ever be, because of their common experiences. He watched good friends die and he also watched a country begin to rebuild itself.
What I notice about these fine men and women is that they are the people I want in my life forever. Not one of them has ever made excuses for mistakes that have been made; instead they take responsibility and make a plan to move forward. Some of them may well suffer for years or longer with post traumatic stress syndrome. But I have never heard one of them express regret for their service. They joined voluntarily and they have served with excellence and pride.
To each and every one of the men and women who has served this wonderful country throughout the years, I offer my most sincere gratitude. I send blessings to all of you and your families. I salute you.
This Memorial Day I will be taking time to offer thanks and to think about all of those who have offered their time and their very lives so that I could have a long weekend with family, friends and BBQ. They must never be forgotten.
With love and gratitude,