25 May, 2009

A Different Kind of Memorial Day

Memorial Day usually means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For many in our neck of the woods, Memorial Day weekend is the beginning of the summer. It is the weekend where we all go and open up our cabins for the first time of the summer. We gripe and complain at how cold the water is when we get in to put our dock in. We relish the feel of the fresh wind blowing across our face as our boat or jet ski skips across the water for the first time in almost a year. For others it is a weekend of barbecues, backyard sports, and spending time with friends and family. A few patriotic citizens will go downtown and enjoy a Memorial Day parade, while others will take things more to heart and attend a Memorial Day service at the local cemetery. Most will never take a chance to think about what Memorial Day really means.

Growing up my parents usually took me to a parade on Memorial Day, and then spent the rest of the day at the family cabin. My parents tried to teach me what Memorial Day was all about but it never quite took. As I grew older I began to participate in the parades with my high school marching band, never really fully understanding who or what I was honoring. Even when I joined the Guard and began to march in the parades with my unit I still didn't fully understand what Memorial Day was all about. Now, as sit in the barracks thousands of miles away from home reflecting on the last several years of my life, I think I finally understand.

I sit here writing this and realize how truly lucky I am to be an American. I know how fortunate I am to have had the privilege to grow up within these borders. You do not know the sacrifices the country has been built upon until you have lived them and experienced them. I have finally seen first hand the freedoms those in uniform give up to protect those we love. I haven't watched TV in god knows how long. I never get to choose what or when I will eat. I don't get to see or talk to my family whenever I want. I will not complete college on time. I live in a room with 30 other men, sharing 3 urinals, 4 toilets, 6 sinks, and 6 showers. I wake up early in the morning and work till too late into the night. Computers and video games are all memories of what almost seems like a past life. All the comforts of home I have taken for granted of for so long are a thing of the past. I tell you this not to complain. I am happy to sacrifice so those that love and ensure that they live free, that they themselves do not have to sacrifice. I tell you this because I think of all that I have sacrificed since being deployed and can only imagine how bad my brothers-in-arms before me had it. I cannot fathom being away from my family for 4 years fighting in lands halfway across the world. This, I now know, is only part of what Memorial Day is all about.

This morning I was doing PT and started thinking about how in a few hours my family will be arriving at the cabin to spend the day together. I thought about all the volleyball games I will miss with all my cousins. I thought about all the great food I won't be eating (especially Auntie Debby's cheese dip). I thought about not being able to play with my nieces and all the other kids in the freezing cold water. These thoughts stayed with me as I washed the sweat off my body and began preparing for today's training. Suddenly I found myself staring at the dog tag I keep tucked in the laces of my right boot. Staring at that dog tag I thought about my friend CW3 Phil Windorski. Phil made the ultimate sacrifice for our country on January 26th, 2009 when his OH-58D Kiowa was shot down over Iraq. I reached to hand a fellow soldier some papers and noticed, for the first time, the black bracelet on his right wrist. Inscribed on the bracelet were the names of 3 soldiers he served with who lost their lives when an IED exploded. I sat down at another fellow soldier's computer and stared at the picture of his cousin who gave his life in Afghanistan. It was then that the full picture came to me. I thought about how Phil and thousands of other soldiers will never again see their families again. I thought about the unknown number of children who will never have their father or mother around. I thought about countless wives and husbands who will always have an empty bed greeting the at the end of a long day. I thought about the parents who had to live through the pain of having outlived their children. It was then that I knew what Memorial Day was all about.

Memorial Day is more than a long weekend at the beginning of summer. It is more than opening the cabin and having a barbecue. It is about the sacrifice that millions of American have made to build this country up from nothing. It is about the time away from home, the freedoms they willingly give up, and about the lives they have given for us all. Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring those that have served this greatest of nations. Memorial Day is about honoring and recognizing those who continue to serve her today.

Celebrating Memorial Day doesn't have to change. We all will still go and gather at our respective places to have a barbecue. We will all still play backyard games with our friends and families. Many will still attend Memorial Day parades. Too few will attend a Memorial Day service. No matter how you celebrate Memorial Day, never forget why you're celebrating. Never forget the soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and coast guardsmen who have made all this possible. Take a moment or two to silently give thanks.

For me, this Memorial Day is different. I will not be at the cabin with my family. Instead I will be training to go to war and defend this country I love so much. While they gather around the picnic tables for lunch, I'll be sitting in a hot HMMWV focusing not on where I want to be, but the task at hand. And while I prepare for this daunting task ahead, I will never forget those who have served before me, nor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. And while I remember, I also pray that my soldiers and my comrades don't have to make the sacrifice as well.

-Guardsman

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey TJ,

I just wanted to say Happy Memorial Day and let you know how thankful I am that you sacrifice everything so that I don't have to.

Love and miss you,
Megan Cobb

Dick and Denise said...

T.J,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your Granpa Vic would be so proud of you. Memorial Day to me is very emotional, it always reminds me of my Dad (Grandpa Vic) and how much I miss him. He flew 17 missions in WWII, and was a very proud American. I always tried to take him to the Memorial Day events in his later years. I'll never forget the tears rolling down his face each time they played Taps and did the 21 gun salute. He could never get through singing the Star Spangled Banner without getting choked up as well. Each Memorial Day, I tell him , this ones for you Dad.
Love-Mom