Thursday, November 11, 2010

Truly a Day of Remembrance

Today is Veterans' Day, a day to honor all of our heroes who have served and sacrificed. While the following blog was actually written on, and about, Memorial Day, I think it is still an important reminder today. May we all remember.

I have always celebrated Memorial Day, although I didn’t always know what we were celebrating, or why. As a child, Veterans and Memorial Day meant loading up the station wagon with plastic flowers and spending the afternoon at the National Cemetery. I would watch my otherwise hard-shelled Polish grandmother gently kneel before the graves of unknown soldiers and place flowers by the headstones. I didn’t understand why, but I knew there must be something important that made this tough woman turn to mush, each and every year. Now, I’m starting to understand.

My great grandfather was taken from his home by Nazis in 1935. My grandmother was 9 years old. She never saw her father again. Years later, after her family had fled to Germany, she met a soldier, fell in love, and later accompanied him to the US. My grandfather was a war vet. He served his country in Vietnam, and was later killed, not in action, but rather by the alcohol which took over his life after he returned. When I was five years old, I watched my grandfather turn yellow and fade away, lying in a dirty, lonely bed in the VA Hospital. I remember thinking that he deserved more. At his funeral, my grandmother told me to open my mouth so that my ears wouldn’t pop from the 21 gun salute. She looked so sad, but proud. And when the other soldiers carefully folded an American flag and presented it to my Mother, my grandmother actually cried. I didn’t know why the flag was such a big deal. Now, I’m starting to understand.

So, each year, I would kneel beside my grandfather’s grave and place the obligatory wreath. I would then follow my grandmother to the countless rows of unknown soldiers. She would tell me that they deserved flowers, too, even if no one knew who they were. She hoped that somewhere, someone was placing flowers on her father’s grave as well. I loved those moments, because they were rare glimpses into my grandmother’s past—a childhood that was too painful for her to share. I watched her storing up plastic flowers throughout the year—from garage sales and clearance racks. I didn’t understand why it was so important to have all of those flowers. Now, I’m starting to understand.

Yes, this year, I am beginning to understand. As my husband sits in his storage container in the middle of the desert, although I miss him terribly, I am so very grateful that he is safe. I am grateful that I get to answer the phone and hear his voice. I am grateful for the butterflies I feel every time we speak. And this Memorial Day, I am reminded of all of the spouses who will never have that feeling again.

All military spouses know the fear of a “commo blackout” (no communication allowed), because it means that someone was killed, and the Army needs to notify the family. We all know the nervous waiting--hoping to get a phone call from our loved ones, not a knock on the door from men in uniform. We know the mix of emotions we feel when we hear that someone was killed--the gratitude that your soldier is safe, and the guilt because someone's is not. Someone’s husband, father, brother, mother, wife, sister, or child is not coming home. So, on this Memorial Day, I am thankful for these soldiers’ courage and sacrifice. And I will remember the families who are left here to grieve, the families who got that horrendous knock on the door. I may not know your pain, but I understand how much you deserve to be honored.
For me, Memorial Day is a day of gratitude. It’s a day that I am thankful for my husband’s safety, for the soldiers who have not returned, and for the families who loved them. I am grateful for people who still watch the news (on the rare occasions that the media still covers the war) and are saddened, for the people who still say “thank you for your service” (which means a lot, by the way), and for those people who, like my grandmother, still place flowers on soldiers’ graves. And I am grateful that, finally, I understand.

For those who have sacrificed, those who have left us, and those they have left behind—thank you.

And to my amazing husband--thank you. And please, hurry home

No comments:

Post a Comment