Memorial Day is more than an extra day off of work, a long weekend at the river, flags in a lawn, or parades. It is not designed as a day to honor those that are serving but a day designed to remember those that have died while serving this country and protecting the freedom of its citizens. For this reason, it is a bittersweet holiday. It is bitter in the sense that those we love are no longer with us; it is sweet because we get to remember them. We get to smile and feel their presence. We know why it is they died and what it is they were doing. We know that they would rather be here with us but chose to forego that opportunity in order to ensure that we can enjoy our freedom and liberties. So, while you take another lap on the boat or enjoy some extra time with your friends and family, remember that this day is an opportunity to honor the lives that were lost while protecting the things you and I take for granted daily.
Memorial Day is a time to realize that many have been impacted by the lives lost in service. Whether it be a mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, battle buddy, or random soldier you were riding with in a convoy, if you lose someone, you remember it. You remember it daily. It indirectly impacts your decisions. You either realize how precious life is or become reckless with your own because you are not sure how to handle the things you have seen and felt. With this in mind, take the opportunity that this holiday provides to support those that have been affected but are still with us. Yes, thank them for their service. But, more importantly, give them a chance to talk. Do not force them, but let them tell you about the battle buddy they lost, the things they did together, and the things you will not understand. They do not need you to tell them that everything is alright. They just need to remember and smile. Mourning is temporary; celebration is endless.
You do not have to be pro-war or pro-government to take a day out of your life to realize your ability to be pro- or con- anything is protected by those that serve. Regardless of your stance on any type of issue, the freedom to have that stance does not inherently come free. It is not a foregone conclusion. It is only possible as long as it is protected by servicemen and women. We are not the only free country, but we are free. You may not agree with everything our country does and is, but it is our country. It is not perfect, but is there a perfect situation? Bullets, IEDs, RPGs, failed engines—they don’t ask soldiers what their views are. They don’t stop to see what their rank is, how much time in service they have, or whether or not they think that particular conflict is a good idea. They simply seek, kill, and destroy. So, while we stand here and argue, we should know that our ability to do so isn’t protected solely by people who share our same belief; it is protected by those willing to protect. The wars and conflicts may not be worth remembering and honoring, but the lives lost to give us our freedoms are.
Those of us who serve or have served all have our different reasons. Some may be purely patriotic. Some may be financially or legally motivated. Some may be strictly out of boredom, curiosity, or spur of the moment. Whatever our reasons, we become affected. Even as a National Guardsmen who drills on the weekends in West Tennessee and has yet to be deployed, the potential of deployment constantly resides in the back of my mind. I have a wife and two children. I am considering a career change and potentially moving. We have friends overseas who we would like to go see. We have trips we would like to take. We can plan all we want, but we know that at any moment my unit could be activated. We also understand the reality of what could happen if I am deployed. It may seem safe enough driving an hour from my home once a month to drill, but that is not what I ultimately signed up for. I signed up in case my state or my country needs me. Even if deployed, I may not be on the front lines. There are only so many soldiers who can be. I still have to fly into hostile territory, travel through that hostile territory, and live in the middle of it. It is not like bases are inconspicuous, and it is not like we are fighting on our home turf. You could sign up to serve just to pass the time before you decide what you want to do with your life, but that does not make service any less real. We signed the dotted line, and the reality is that we could wind up being remembered and honored on Memorial Day rather than Veterans Day.
I was asked to write this article most likely due to my service. I was asked simply to write an article about Memorial Day. To do this, I first had to think about what Memorial Day is and how I now view it. A few years ago, I would have simply thought about finding a way to get to the river. Now I think of those with which I have trained. I see the change in their demeanor when their time overseas is discussed. You can see in their eyes and their body language that their thoughts instantly go to certain scenes, feelings, and soldiers. You can tell when those thoughts come to battle buddies that they have known and lost. This is not Vietnam or a World War, but soldiers have been and are still being lost. While not every soldier that has been deployed has lost someone with whom they served, it is more likely than not that someone with whom they have crossed paths while serving did not return home. This sticks with them. They may be able to lead a normal life upon returning home, but memories stick with you. I simply suggest that you think of and remember that this weekend. Absolutely enjoy whatever you have planned. Do not feel shame for taking advantage of time off, but know there is a reason we set aside a day to honor and remember. And think of the families and friends left behind. Reach out to them and let them remember. Let them feel what they feel, and don't leave them to do it alone.
Brad Ferrell was born and raised in Jackson and now teaches math and coaches baseball at Jackson Central-Merry High School. He and his wife Kristen have two children: Noah Edward and Virginia Graham.
Header image taken by Kristi Woody.