It took a long time for me to realize the significance of Memorial Day. All through childhood and into midlife, Memorial Day consiste...

Not the Purpose of the Day



     It took a long time for me to realize the significance of Memorial Day. All through childhood and into midlife, Memorial Day consisted of a small parade from downtown to the veterans section of the cemetery. Then, a little while later, there was the distant boom of a 21 gun salute. And by noon it was the Indy 500 and a big cookout. But over the years as I’ve learned so much from the veterans we have on service at FAIRHOPE Hospice my way of “celebrating” Memorial Day has changed. 

     I wonder how the families who lost someone in the military, especially combat, feel about Memorial Day. It truly takes a family to defend a nation because those in the military come from families. I saved an article that was in a special issue of Newsweek magazine featuring an interview with a Vietnam veteran, who was 21 year old when the described firefight occurred. In it, he described his experience as to how combat in Vietnam occurred. It follows:

     “We were brought into La Drang on a Huey helicopter, and I had a few minutes to stand around and look at the area, which was just like every other operation in Vietnam. It was jungle. I was an assistant machine gunner that day with my friend Russ [ . . . ]. We traded off manning the weapon every other day. We barely had time to get our bearings when we came under heavy fire. And when the firing started, it wasn’t like a sniper shot or anything. It was bullets and bombs and grenades and everything going off simultaneously”.

     “And all at once, everyone around me is getting shot. My friend [ . . . ]was right in front of me and he got machine-gunned across the stomach. He dropped at my feet and was screaming for his mom. It was like something in a movie. You just can’t believe your eyes or your ears. And there were other guys just lying there dead, still in firing positions. So that scared the hell out of me. At that moment, my instincts and adrenaline just took over. I just ran, following Russ Adams, who was heading for the mountains with the machine gun. Since I had all the ammo, and the only weapon I had on me was my .45, It seemed like the place to go.”

     A friend of mine is a Civil War buff and he told me of letters he’s seen from soldiers of that war describing combat in much the same way as describe by the Vietnam veteran. Even though a mission might have been initiated exactly as scheduled, with a goal and a distinct plan of how to achieve it, once the battle erupted it was pure mayhem.

     Some of the aging spouses, and children, of those killed in combat are not able to get to the cemetery. Some may be having a difficult emotional time visiting the grave site. Maybe this year, before the cookout, feel free to thank a person who gave everything by going out to any cemetery. Find a veteran’s gravestone, or plaque, and clean around the site. That’s all.

      Such a simple gesture may have a profound effect on the surviving family, should they find out. And it may help you in that you aren’t saying, “Thanks for your service, I like tomato on my hamburger. “ but actually showing your gratitude. True gratitude is an action word.

    Every holiday has its meal for family and friends to gather around. For this Memorial Day, I’m not saying to give up the grill. I am suggesting considering making the cookout something for the end of the day, not the purpose of the day.    
Author Rick Schneider