Memorial Day 2020 Reflection
When I was growing up Memorial Day was something to look forward to. It meant a three-day weekend, a break from school, and then later, when I was a grown-up, a shorter work week and time to catch up, be with family, maybe have a picnic.
I didn’t make a connection between this holiday and the people in my family. I knew that my Dad served in World War II in the China Burma India campaign as a radio control tower man. His dad, my Grandfather, served in World War I in the American Expeditionary Force. Once I saw a plaque on the wall in my Grampa’s apartment. It listed the names of eight places, Verdun, Mort Homme, the Somme --battlefields and nearby field hospitals. The horses he is pictured with might have pulled the ambulances to carry wounded and dead soldiers. Neither my Dad nor my Grampa talked much about their war-time experiences and I don’t remember my family going to any special remembrance gatherings, solemn services at cemeteries with flags, wreaths on Memorial Day. These were things I saw on TV for a few moments during newscasts.
Between my growing up years and now I’ve come to understand the importance and deep meaning of Memorial Day. Over these many years I’ve realized that even though I am not technically from a military family where the men make a career of service and the family lives on base, generations of my family have served in the military, different branches, different wars, although not all combat-related assignments, essential nonetheless.
My husband who survived his three tours in Viet Nam knows many of the men whose names are now marked on the black granite wall in Washington D.C. Names of men who gave the last full measure at Dak To, Cu Chi, Lang Vei, Khe Sahn.
Our son, Matt, did not survive his Iraq war experience, a PTSD fatality, carrying what is sometimes called the invisible wounds of war. Matt was thrilled and proud to enlist, to earn his Jump Wings and his CIB (Combat Infantryman’s Badge), to be a part of the storied 82nd Airborne Division, like his dad before him. He bragged about becoming “all he was meant to be…” like the Army slogan in his letters home from the early weeks in Basic Training. His letters from Iraq were often dark and he talked about how he had changed.
It took my son’s death for me to truly understand the enormous weight of military service, its toll, not only on the service member, but their family as well. Over the past few years I have had the privilege of service as a board member for the National Veterans Art Museum (NVAM). Over 2500 works of art by veterans are in the collection and NVAM offers programs for the community, for students, for families, for service members and veterans. NVAM’s dedication to veteran artists, and their creative expression is inspiring. The current Covid-19 constraints will no doubt prevent many traditional Memorial gatherings and events. NVAM provides and opportunity for people to reflect, to engage and to express appreciation.
Memorial Day is now a very personal day, a day of remembrance, a day of reflection a day that is set aside to pay tribute in ways that bring comfort but also –at least this is my hope- a day that calls everyone in this country to recognize and appreciate what it is we ask of those who serve—so that all of us can live in freedom in this great country.
My invitation to you, is to think about the veterans and service members in your circle of friends and family….and consider making NVAM a part of your Memorial Day reflection this year.
Gold Star Mother
NVAM Board Member