I don’t how many of you have known a fallen soldier personally. I distinctly recall one who was our neighbor years ago when we lived on a military base in North Carolina.
I was around ten years old when we lived on Pope Air Force Base among people who would stay close to my family for many years. There is a bond like no other among the military families as they work and live alongside one another. The base was a wonderful place to live as a child. There were so many places within walking distance: a movie theater, a bowling alley, our school, and several parks. All the kids roamed the area safely and we were all close friends. During our stay here, our neighbors two houses down was a young family with a sweet young child and a beautiful Irish Setter. I remember having cookouts and interactions with this family many times.
As a child who had grown up in the military life, I knew certain things. For instance, I knew what the general’s cars looked like. I knew that if a general came down your street with a chaplain behind him, something terrible had happened.
One day, several of my friends were with me playing out in my front yard when we saw one of the general’s cars turn down my road. We all noticed and stopped still when we saw the second car with the flags indicating it was the chaplain. Someone had died. We all knew what it meant and several women who were outside all stopped and stared as well. The cars moved slowly down the street and there was a palpable relief that swept each front yard as they drove past. Even though their family was safe from the horrible news, though, no one took their eyes off the cars.
As they approached my house, they began to slow down and I remember almost holding my breath and praying it wasn’t my dad that was now gone. The first car moved past me and the second crept behind it and I saw them both pull up to the curb two houses away. In the front yard was the wife, clipping some bushes. I will never forget her wailing as she dropped to her knees, knowing that the news she was about to hear would forever change her life.
My mom came bolting out the door and she and another lady rushed down to the side of their friend and scooped up her child. Our job was to take care of the little boy for the next several hours and into the next day as the family of our fallen friend began to arrive to help his wife.
It was a terrible day for us all and one that I will never forget. I knew I would never see that man again and the realization that he had died serving our country was embedded into my heart forever. And I was relieved my father had been spared.
Memorial Day is not just for a good cookout and a few flags placed in our yard. It’s for remembering those who gave it all to keep us safe and protect our freedom. My father just passed away. He was given a full military funeral and the coordinated movements of the soldiers as they unfolded and folded the flag was beautiful. As they handed the flag to my stepmother, the soldier said something like, “Ma’am, the President and our country thank you for his service to our country.” As they handed the flag to her, Taps was played in the background. It was incredibly moving and I couldn’t help but feel proud and happy that my father had been a part of the protection of our country. But he lived to come home when so many didn’t. If he were here today, he would say that the real heroes fell on the battlefield.
All gave some, but some gave all.