What does Memorial Day mean to you? Of course I have always been aware of the holiday. When I was younger I knew of it as a day that we were to wave little flags and watch a parade. As I got older I was extremely aware of Memorial Day as a great shopping day thanks to the multitude of commercials and ads that I would see at every turn of the channel. With the advent of social media, particularly facebook, the holiday got more personal with the myriad of photographs and testaments that appeared in my news feed. This Memorial Day, however, changed everything for me.
Last Tuesday my Uncle Hank died of a sudden heart attack. I traveled with my kids to Milwaukee to celebrate his life with our family. At his funeral I learned that he was a veteran. I don’t know how I didn’t know that before. It’s rather embarrassing how we can keep close company with family and yet still not know a lot about them, but that is a post for another day. In any event, hearing that fact in his eulogy was just the start of my education. When the service was over they brought the casket outside to the hearse. Before putting it in they draped an American flag over the coffin. It was such a beautiful sight to see with my Uncle’s children, sons-in law and grandchildren surrounding the casket, hoisting it off of the stand. We drove in a long, Sheriff escorted procession to the cemetery. There, after the priest concluded his remarks, servicemen began an extremely proficient presentation. They lifted the flag from the casket, systematically folding it in a well choreographed routine in which even the lifting of their eyes had a prescribed moment in the ritual.
When the serviceman stepped up to my aunt, holding the immaculately prepared, tight cornered flag, and said to her ,”On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation please accept this flag as a token of appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” Tears surged from my eyes. My heart burst with admiration. I had no idea that I would feel such a wealth of emotion observing that presentation, that it would touch me so deeply, but it did.
Memorial Day is in existence to honor those servicemen who fell in combat, while in active service to their country. Listening to all that my Uncle did as a son, a husband, a father, a union, church and community member I believe he was forever on active duty in service to his country. And thus he died while still on that mission to make the World a better place.
“Honor, service, gratitude,” those aren’t just words we throw around on social media or in a mattress ad on TV, they have value, real emotional value. The true meaning of Memorial Day lies in that emotional value. I was honored that I was able to bear witness to the celebration of my Uncle’s service to his country. His contribution, his leadership by example, changed me through his life and his death, and for that I am eternally grateful.
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