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For the most part, I have been one of those people who sees the main significance of Memorial Day as being the start of summer.
For me and a lot of others, whether or not they would admit it publicly, Memorial Day has been little more than a nice three-day weekend – a good time to sleep in late, get outdoors, grill some brats and maybe have a family reunion or go for a swim.
I know the history of Memorial Day. Somewhere, squirreled back in the file cabinet of my brain, I recall hearing people call it Decoration Day.
The day was set aside in the 1860s to remember the sacrifices of Civil War veterans. These days, the holiday is designed to honor every soldier who died in defense of our country.
I remember my mom telling me the day used to be called Decoration Day.
She used to put out flowers on my father’s grave on Decoration Day. He, like most men of his age, was drafted into service.
Although the U.S. had already started operations in Vietnam, my dad was sent to Korea, several years after the war there had ended.
My dad didn’t die in combat but it didn’t matter. He was a veteran and my mom felt that he should be recognized.
As I got older, the day lost some of its significance. Not because I lost my appreciation for those who fought and died for democracy but simply because life seems to move faster every single day.
But last week, I received an e-mail that made me slow down.
One of my best friends is making a career in the U.S. Air Force.
Several weeks ago, Robert left his wife and three sons for a deployment in the Middle East. Where he is staying has a good relationship with the west and he is relatively safe there.
But last week, I received an e-mail. Robert was heading out on an assignment. He was purposely sketchy on the details.
He also asked for my current address and said he had some stuff he wanted to send me.
With my usual sarcastic “wit,” I wrote back, “Oh, great. Should I call the bomb squad or the drug dogs?”
“No,” he wrote me. “I just have some letters I wrote for (his wife) Becky and the boys in case something happens to me.”
Now, I’m not the kind of person who is easily rattled, but I will admit a chill went down my spine.
For most of his military career, Robert has been stationed stateside, working out of an air-conditioned office, analyzing intelligence and briefing officers on what was going on in the world. He was never really in harm’s way.
The thought that something could happen to my friend struck me hard.
I told my friend I would be honored to hold onto the letters and he could pick ‘em up the next time he comes to Kentucky.
Robert went on to say that he wasn’t being morbid or even that he thought something could happen on the new assignment. He just wanted to make sure that his family had the chance to read what he thought about them and had something to hold onto in case he didn’t return.
If you turn on the news these days, water boarding, torture, politics and the economy dominates almost every minute of coverage. The pages of most major newspapers reflect the public’s current economic obsession.
But there are still wars going on. U.S. soldiers are still dying – giving up everything – in the name of freedom.
I expect I will receive a package in the next few days from my friend containing those letters.
I will leave that package unopened and put it away deep in the back of one of my filing cabinets at home.
After that, I pray the next time I touch that package, it will be to hand it back to my friend.
But you never know.
Even though Memorial Day has passed, take a moment today to think about those who gave all for all of us.