Monday, May 30, 2011
Memorial Day 2011
I realize I am quite in the middle of telling you all about my trip back to the States, but since this has been a month of interruptions, there's another very important one I must make on this particular day.
In my very first "real job" out of college, I worked for a veterans service organization called AMVETS (American Veterans). As far as first jobs go, I landed a pretty great one. I was working as a writer, editor and journalist for their national headquarters' publications. One of my tasks as peon copywriter was to write a message and a speech for each patriotic holiday that would be sent out by our National Commander, along with a press release to our media outlets. I started the job in August, so my first holiday to cover was September 11th, 2004. I took great care in preparing that speech, as it was one of my first big writing assignments on the job. I took similar care with Veterans Day. Then Pearl Harbor Day. By the time Memorial Day rolled around in May, to be honest, it was just another speech... just another press release... just another day off... and in many ways, just another day.
As I read the message and speech that I wrote for Memorial Day 2005, it's apparent to me now that I had absolutely no understanding of what this day really means. I mean, all of the information is correct. The holiday began after the Civil War and was originally called Decoration Day because townspeople would remember their fallen by decorating each grave site with a flag, as is done at military cemeteries across the world (even here in Guam). Memorial Day is, in fact, our nation's oldest holiday. And yes, across our history over a million people have given their lives in service to our country.
But reading this message and this speech now, I can tell that my 22 year-old mind never conceived that one of those million would be someone in our close circle. No question, this past year has been the one in which my understanding of life in the military has changed very much. Sure, there has always been danger, always been risk. But for the first time, I have had to accept that not everyone comes home. And for those who do come home, they may not come home the same... and a sacrifice to our country may still be theirs to make. These are awful truths. So awful that I wish I could go back to Memorial Day 2005 when I only knew these truths on paper but did not feel them in my heart or know them to exist at a friend's dinner table.
There is one thing from the speech I wrote that is worth repeating. And it's the one part I did not write. A quote by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, someone who had to understand the gravity of sending men to war.
"Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them."
They forget. We forget. That people died so this great life of freedom and privilege might be ours. These men and women all had dreams left to fulfill in this life, but they put them aside to protect the freedoms of people they'd never meet. People like you and me.
So this weekend, my heart is with the friends and families who have unfairly yet gracefully borne the greatest burden of war. Our love, gratitude, and prayers are with you as you remember your hero. We will never forget them or the selfless sacrifice they made so that freedom might remain ours a little bit longer. And so it appears we must learn the hardest way that freedom isn't free. I just never before really understood how tremendous the cost...
In memory and honor of Brendan Looney, Adam Smith, & Clay Hunt. We will never forget you.