Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

The veterans rode by, walked by and marched in formation. The bands played and the little American flags waved. I was surprised by the number of young families out in the dreary, freezing weather. I really only expected older people, ones who remember the "War Years." Instead, I saw as many strollers as canes.  This parade was not about entertainment, it was a memorial.

I wore my yellow ribbon pin, something I rarely do because it feels like wearing a blaring neon sign proclaiming: my husband is deployed. But I wore it anyways. And I stood in the rain, while my snow-suit clad children looked on from their stroller with minimal enthusiasm. I was near to tears at the sight of the men who have served our country and the suburban that drove by with the names of Montana's fallen inscribed on its side windows. I looked over to Angie, a Navy vet and dear friend of mine, and saw the shine in her eyes as well. No words were needed. I sipped my latte to push back the tears.

Afterwards, we took the kids to McDonald's to eat and get some playground time in. I stood in line behind an elderly man wearing a hat with WWII emblazoned on it. He was unsteady on his feet and had trouble navigating with his cane and holding his tray so I offered to help. His eyes were piercingly blue and perfectly clear.

He commented on my MSU sweatshirt, mentioning that he was a psychology professor there. I took the opening into conversation and asked him about which branch he served in and where. This was his reply:

"Infantry. I was in Europe. France, Germany and Austria. I was in the Battle of the Bulge. And I was part of the Liberation....labor camps..." and then he got choked up. He looked at me through watery eyes and said, "I'm sorry. Today has made me emotional." I had tears of my own and assured him it was okay. I told him that my husband was serving in Iraq and he said he knew someone in the same unit.

I told him thank you for his service and he smiled at me and replied, "You're welcome." And then he got choked up again. I wished my husband was there to sit and talk with him, knowing that he would know the questions to ask, the times to speak and the times to be silent.  Instead, I heard shrieks from the playland and knew my children needed me so I thanked him again and walked away.

Memorial Day never meant much to me before. I never thought twice about it. But, here I sit, having the person I love most in harms' way, fighting a war. I know he is about as safe as he can be, but he is still there. I can begin to imagine a tiny bit of what the families of those who died might have felt when they got that call, telegram or visit only because I have ran through it dozens of times in my mind as a preemptive precaution.

I think of that man, a lifetime lived and still brought to tears at the memory of his days as a young soldier.

And suddenly, the words duty, valor, service and patriotism mean so much more to me. Today means more than going to a parade or spending a few minutes in conversation with a veteran and definitely more than BBQing or camping. It is a day to think about the men and women who serve now, the ones who fought then and all of the soldiers and families who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Today's post was written by Julie Swanson. It first appeared on her personal blog on Memorial Day in 2011, while her husband was deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard. It is republished here with her permission. Oh, and she just so happens to be Jack's amazing speech therapist.
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