I realize this isn’t exactly a news flash for most people, but …

Today is Memorial Day.

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It’s a day for being off work, flying the flag, celebrating the official start of summer with a BBQ or a day on the water (whether it’s a lake or enjoying the first swim of the season). And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending Memorial Day having fun.

But, it’s also about pausing to reflect upon the price it costs to living in the land of the free. It’s a day for our nation to remember those who have served and the price they paid because …

Service to nation is never free.

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Today is Memorial Day.

Seventeen years ago, on another Memorial Day, we buried my grandfather.

He was a great man of godly character. My grandfather loved his Lord, his family, his friends and his nation. He was proud to be an American and truly embraced the freedoms we have here.

When my grandfather passed away on Memorial Weekend, it seemed sort of fitting to bury him on Memorial Day. He had a plain wooden coffin that was draped in an American flag.

At the end of the service, some men from the local VFW came forward to fold the flag and present it to my grandmother, as is the tradition to honor our nation’s veterans.  But what should have been a beautiful and simple ceremony to conclude the service quickly turned into a Keystone Cops sort of fiasco.

Three elderly gentlemen, who were also veterans themselves, stepped forward to solemnly remove the flag, They started the process of folding up the stars and stripes into a neat triangle, however,  as they came close to finishing the men realized that they had folded the flag all wrong.  Carefully, the men walked backwards and unfolded the flag.

The entire process started over … only as they reached the end of the flag, they again realized it had not been folded correctly. Once more they unfolded the flag and attempted to fold it again. I’m not sure exactly how many times these men folded, unfolded and refolded the flag, or even if they ever got it folded correctly.  All I know was at some point during the ordeal I realized I was shaking with silent laughter. I was afraid to look at anyone in the eyes for fear that the dam would break and loud shrieks of laughing would burst forth.

Fortunately, I didn’t embarrass myself and eventually my grandmother was handed the folded flag in honor of my grandfather’s service.Afterwards, my entire family agreed that my grandfather would have gotten immense amusement out of the flag-folding episode at his funeral.  The memory of my grandfather’s patriotism and the hilarity of the VFW attempting to fold the flag in his honor continues to be a Memorial Day memory I cherish year after year.

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My grandfather, V. E. “Red” McGee, in his sailor’s uniform during World War II.

Today is Memorial  Day.

For seven years, I was the spouse of a soldier. My ex-husband and I moved four times during those seven years. I gave birth to one baby on the west coast (my California Beach Boy) and another on the east coast (my Sweet Georgia Peach).  Additionally, we spent time calling Virginia and Texas home.

I’m grateful for all that those seven years of service gave me and taught me. From sea to shining sea, I got to spend time exploring our beautiful nation. Living in military housing afforded me the opportunity to meet a wide-variety of people from all walks of life. Their stories have stuck with me. Their friendships have blessed me. Today, as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I am amazed at how many of my nearly 1000 friends came from those seven years of military life. I wouldn’t trade that time and those experiences for the world!

And yet, there was a price to pay.  While I’d never blame military service completely on the failure of my first marriage, I do believe that frequent deployments and the stress of separation played a major part in the death of that relationship.

Unfortunately, the high stakes cost isn’t over yet. Nearly eight years later, my children, who will always suffer to some extent as they deal with the effects of growing up in a broken family, still pay the price on a daily basis. They don’t have the pleasure of regular visits with their father, Currently, their dad is temporarily deployed to Europe, and with the volatile world climate my kids worry about their dad, fearful of what might happen to him while he does his job.

Protecting their hearts gets harder and harder as they grow older.

Service to nation is not free.

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Today is Memorial Day.

It’s always been an honor to say that my dad was a veteran.

My dad joined the army shortly after he and my mother were married. I recall him telling me that he knew he would soon be drafted, so rather than wait for the letter to arrive in the mail, he went to the recruiters himself. By doing so, my dad was able to finish college before leaving for basic training.

I used to love to listen to my dad’s tales about the Army. One of my favorites was how he used too tell about how once he was put in charge of an entire barracks of soldiers. He was responsible for the condition of the barracks (neatness and cleanliness) as well as knowing the whereabouts of all the soldiers assigned to that barracks. He had to report any that were not in by curfew and each morning at formation account for everyone.

Dad would always elaborate on how the other barracks were in such a disarray, with soldiers always out past curfew or not up in time to stand in formation. He would go into great detail about how the other barracks were full of fighting, drunken soldiers.

But not his barracks. Dad would proudly say that his group of soldiers were always on time. Their beds were made properly, uniforms sharply pressed,  the floors were mopped and the bathrooms kept sparkling clean. He said not one soldier ever missed a curfew and each morning they were all standing outside, perfectly in formation with their boots shining in the morning sun. In fact, for three or four months in a row, my dad received the award for the best barracks, earning the right to eat a private lunch with the Lt. Col., and honor that still thrilled my dad years later.

Of course, it wasn’t until after my father thought he had duly impressed us all with his amazing leadership abilities that he would let you in on the secret to his success.  You see,  the barracks under his leadership was entirely made up of a group of Mormons. (Later, during my years as a military spouse, I began to understand just exactly how patriotic and honorable Mormons as a whole are.)

My dad was so proud of his military service. One Christmas, my siblings and I gathered all my dad’s military patches and medals, and put them into a special display case. I wish I could say it was my idea. It wasn’t. It is my brother who deserves the credit.  I’m just grateful he included my sister and I, allowing us to share a part in giving the gift to my dad.  I don’t know that I’ve ever had more pleasure in watching someone open a gift than I had that Christmas when my dad opened up the display case with all of his military regalia. I thought my dad’s smile was going to burst the seams on his face!  For as long as I live, I will never forget that moment.

Yet as proud as my dad was …

Service to nation isn’t free.

Dad receiving a commendation in Vietnam
Dad receiving a medal and commendation in Vietnam

Today is Memorial Day.

My dad was once a soldier who served his nation during a time of conflict and war.  Though he returned home, my father long remembered the names of those he knew who gave their lives in protection of our nation’s freedoms.

When I was in high school, a touring replica of the Vietnam Wall memorial came to our area. My dad insisted we go view it. I could tell it was a solemn event for him, far more than a simple wall or just a group of names. He knew each one represented a real man who never came home. He understood the price these soldiers had paid.

My father didn’t die in Vietnam. Rather the war took nearly 45 years to kill him. 

You see, during his one year in Vietnam, my dad was exposed to Agent Orange. If you look up the effects of Agent Orange exposition, the list is long.  Everything from cancer and other debilitating diseases like Parkinson’s to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.  My dad experienced the last three, his first heart attack occurring in his mid-40’s. I think he had 3 more over the next 20 years. In the last year or two of his life, my dad’s heart functioned at just barely over 20% of full pumping capacity, yet he continued to wake up each day and live a full life.

Several years ago, my father began to receive a full veteran’s disability from the U. S. government as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange. While he was open and honest about the fact that he had suffered from effects of the exposure and was receiving compensation, my dad never once complained to me (or to anyone else that I am aware of) about those resulting consequences. Instead, he was proud of his military service, and counted it as one of the better things he did in his life.

I am proud of him too.

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Today is Memorial Day.

Today, while I enjoy a long weekend with my family, I am also remembering.

I am remembering that while there are those who paid the ultimate price for my freedoms, each and every one of our military men and women who spent time serving our nation has sacrificed something because …

Service to nation is never free.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”     ~John 15:13

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One thought on “Memorial Day Memories

  1. Beautifully, written. I especially appreciated the story about the flag. I have been to a funeral, myself where I was out of mind with grief, and the Holy Spirit gave me a chuckle!

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