While I have never served in the military, I am the daughter of an Army officer, the granddaughter of a Naval officer, the daughter-in-law of an Air Force officer, the sister of a former Army lieutenant, the sister-in-law of a West Point graduate, the cousin of many others who have served in all the branches of service in all ranks, and the mother of a boy who has had his eyes set on a career in the military since he could walk.
Like most Army brats, I have no illusions about what servicemen and women are asked to sacrifice for their country. I know about long deployments, missed birthdays, and empty seats at holiday tables.
I also know that in addition to the “big” days like high school graduations, soldiers often miss out on those basic family events—those common activities like cheering at football games, attending band recitals, or reading bedtime stories—that we take for granted as part of our daily lives in America.
Rather than being able to quit and move onto a different job when things don’t go in the direction they might have envisioned--when they are ordered to countries they might not know much about or have no desire to visit—those in the military and their families must simply adjust and keep marching forward.
For instance, I recall one year when my brother was stationed in Korea and could not come home for Christmas. My mother left the tinsel-bedecked Christmas tree replete with lights shining in her living room until it was time for her son’s February homecoming. All the brightly wrapped packages were unopened on December 25 because Jim could not join in the joy of the festivities until he was back in Georgia. We wanted to wait for him, and we did.
I remember when I finally picked him up at the airport in Savannah—him beaming and weighted down with the many gifts he couldn’t wait to dole out like a skinny Santa dressed in a camouflaged uniform--I realized we’d missed an entire year of each other’s lives: 365 days gone.
And this all happened long before the increased demands of September 11th.
Now I think with my own mother’s heart about those young men and women in beating sun, biting cold, who choose to stand guard on the front lines of today. So much has been asked of them in the last decade, and the burdens they carry do not get any lighter as withdrawals from war zones come in the face of growing hostilities from other countries like Iran.
I know this must be difficult for all involved, yet how can I really know?
I have never stood in boots. I am not part of the less than one percent who volunteer year after year to stand up for freedom regardless of their politics or the inevitably missed family moments.
So on this Memorial Day Weekend, as many revel at the good sales, Florida beaches and impromptu barbecues, I will stop and think for at least a moment about those many men and women who have not only raised their hands and stepped forward to serve strangers like me, but of those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. This is, after all, what this weekend is about. Their spirits are part of our country’s collective family, and they should never be forgotten.
Furthermore, I will further keep vigil every time I say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the Star Spangled Banner at one of those many events we enjoy in the day-to-day that the dead will never attend again.
This is the least that I can do for those who have done so much more for me while asking for nothing in return.
May God always keep them and those they leave behind in the palm of His hand.