It is easy to get swept up in the holidays – firstly, because for most of us (though not news reporters or editors, mind you…) days like Memorial Day are a nice three-day weekend away from the workplace.
By the time Memorial Day comes around, the weather is warming up – or just plain hot – and that extra Monday away from work is perfect for a beach-trip, a hotdog and hamburger cookout at the park, a lazy saunter down a local river, or a backyard barbeque.
As if to further that mindset of a holiday break, local stores offer Memorial Day Sales, and clothing boutiques bring out their red-whites-and-blues in the week leading up to Memorial Day.
And yet, whenever Memorial Day comes around, I can’t help but…feel a bit of sadness at the use of the day as a holiday.
For those of us who have not lost a family member overseas or in the line of duty, I can see very well how the holiday is just that – a holiday.
But it isn’t a holiday for everyone.
Shortly after marrying his wife, my great-grandfather was sent to Korea.
The photos we have from before his deployment shows a very tall, blond, smiling kid; in particular, my favorite post-deployment photo shows him and my great-grandmother sitting in front of their first home. He’s on a stool that looks too small for his lanky, tall build, and she’s perched on his lap.
Written on the back of the photo, in his sloppy, boyish handwriting, is: “me and the little wife.”
(She was very little, and he was very, very tall).
A kid went away to Korea.
A grown man came back.
I once heard a family member make a wry joke that when my great-grandfather came back home to his young wife, he brought her two things: an elegant Korean tea set and his own personal demons.
Despite my great-grandfather’s demons that haunted him for the rest of his life, he got to come home. He was one of the lucky men who got put on a plane and brought back to a waiting wife.
Almost 40,000 other American soldiers didn’t get that opportunity; almost 40,000 families didn’t get the chance to see their boys and men return home from Korea; and that number goes higher and higher as you add in the other modern wars that American soldiers have fought in.
58,209 soldiers died in Vietnam, 403,399 in World War II, and 6,713 in the combined Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
For my family, we get to enjoy hotdogs, hamburgers, a sunny river trip, parades, and joyful patriotism this Memorial Day – but we get that luxury only because another family does not.
That knowledge is not one I take for granted.
For the families whose husbands, brothers, fathers, uncles, and sons did not return home – thank you.
For the men who stepped onto a plane or boat and never got the chance to return stateside – thank you even more.
Ashley Hunter – firstname.lastname@example.org