Memorial Day has always been a day of waking up early, putting nice clothes on and heading to Russell, MN, where my dad marched with other veterans in the Memorial Day service. It was usually a cold, windy day. We would listen as the commander would say some words and as the guest speaker would talk. The veterans would get up and march about 1 mile to the cemetery and the audience would follow in their cars. If we got lucky, the sun would shine a little bit when we got to the cemetery, but it was always windy. At the cemetery, flags would be placed on white crosses as the names of the deceased veterans were read. It seemed for a while, that the names never changed, no more were really added. And then the Iraq war began, and WWII vets began dying. Each year more names and more flags were added, including my Uncle Harry. After the names were read, the colorguard would fire off five shots, command would be spoken and they would march away, everyone left to reflect in silence for a few moments. We would place flowers on my father’s parent’s graves, and my uncle’s grave. We would walk around the cemetery to see the graves of those my parent’s knew from growing up and I would listen as they spoke of their memories.
As we got older, we would sometimes head to Garvin, MN, to the county park, where my grandfather, his brothers and other family members are buried, to attend their Memorial Day service. It was the same type of thing, but there was more signing of hymns. Together with my Grandma Noni, great-aunt J, Aunt M, Aunt S, my mom, sister, and sometimes my 5 cousins, we would travel to two other cemeteries, placing flowers on each grave of our family members who had passed away. Not all were veterans, but it was a day to remember those who had gone on before us. Sometimes we would go to the town of Garvin, and eat a “little lunch” as we call it in Minnesota, talking with those who attended the service. Many were classmates of my Grandma, and it was fun seeing them chat about the children and grandchildren and all the things that had happened since they had last spoken.
I have not been to a Memorial Day service in Minnesota in 5 years. I miss the tradition and I miss the stories and I miss the time spent with family. I also miss the connection to the veterans, and the way that my presence at a service can show my appriciation for their service. I went to one service while I lived in Galveston, and did look at going to a service at Fort Sam Houston today. In a way, I can show my appreciation by attending these services, but it doesn’t hold the same meaning as seeing my dad as part of the color guard, or visiting the graves of my family members.
As I reflect on Memorial Day, I also think of what I have learned from my dad, which I believe came partly from his time in the Army. When I think back to growing up, I can’t always remember the little sayings or advice that came from my parents. I feel bad about this, but I know it is in part, my own fault, because I am quite hard-headed and probably just dismissed the things they were telling me. As I dig deeper, I realize that most of what my dad taught me was in actions, not words. The biggest lesson he taught was respect – considering things worthy of high regard. It didn’t matter if our toys or cars were the nicest, newest or most expensive, they were our things, and we needed to treat them the best we could. The same goes for people, it doesn’t matter if they deserve respect, we need to give it to everyone.
I think of the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12) “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” and how it used to be taught to respect your elders. This goes beyond saying “yes, ma’am or yes sir” and letting someone older have the best chair. It really means taking the best care of them because they are worthy of our time and effort. It has nothing to do with how successful they are, how much money they have or what they can do for us – they are people who deserve love and care.
Today, our veterans deserve our respect. It doesn’t matter if they are disabled, depressed, homeless, sick, or living perfectly normal lives. They have served our country selflessly, sacrificed years of their lives, and so much more than we will ever know. If you know a veteran, tell them thank you. If you don’t know a veteran, seek someone out, and tell them you appreciate their service.
May God Bless our soldiers, past, present and future!