This Memorial Day, I am able to look upon a picture we found just a few months ago, of my grandfather as a solder. It was taken at Ft. Shafter on July 14, 1919, the day he was discharged from the U.S. Army. World War I was over, and he was 23 years old. It was time to return to the rest of his life.
Imagine: He was born and raised on the island of Maui, and he became an American soldier “of the Territory” more than forty years before Hawai‘i became a state.
Holidays like this one help us reflect on our ancestry, and on the values which have made us the people we are. I think about my grandfather, my father, who had served in the Korean War and Viet Nam, and my brother, who recently retired from a career in Army after serving in Iraq. This is from an email he had sent my family while he was there:
I had to laugh when you guys write about how hot it is in HI and AZ. This place is hot 115-120 degrees and climbing, that is outside and not the oven temp. 100 degree days we consider as cool, add in the finest dust you can imagine and then add in the smell of sewage and you might get the picture.
I tell everyone imagine the hottest day ever in HI add 10 degrees then stand with a blower dryer on high hot in your face then throw dust in your face while in a outhouse and you got Iraq. Don’t forget to wear long sleeves, boots and carry 40 pounds of junk around with you. That’s hot, then take a cool shower (when you have one) and feel good for 2 minutes then walk back to your room (when you have one) to get sweaty and dirty by the time you reach there. By the way do this everyday with no days off. I can’t wait to come home for some rest. It really is so bad, sometimes. When you see smiling Iraqi people’s faces and the letters from people supporting us all that grumbling is forgotten.
I would like to thank all of you for your support to me, my family and my fellow brothers and sisters in arms. I hope to see you soon.
No matter what we may think of our involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan or any other war, Jeff reminds us that this is a day to be thankful for where we live, and for the values that America strives to be true to. It is truly a day to understand sacrifice, patriotism, and the gift of freedom.
I newly understand how incredibly fortunate I am when I think about these things.
Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday of May, commemorates the men and women who died while serving in the American military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.
I think it fitting that we stretch that a bit to honor other sacrifices as well, such as those now endured daily by all in our armed forces “alive and well” though in conditions as Jeff described, and in harms way for us.
This event also comes to mind for me, as a strong memory this past winter during a trip to Washington D.C.:
The Pentagon Memorial, located just southwest of The Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia, is a permanent outdoor memorial to the 184 people killed in the building and on American Airlines Flight 77 in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
With help from Wikipedia:
“To honor the 184 victims, 184 illuminated benches have been arranged according to the victim’s ages, from 3 to 71, in a landscaped 1.93-acre (7,800 m2) plot. Each bench is engraved with the name of a victim. The benches representing the victims that were inside the Pentagon are arranged so those reading the names will face the Pentagon’s south facade, where the plane hit; benches dedicated to victims aboard the plane are arranged so that those reading the engraved name will be facing skyward along the path the plane traveled.”
We had driven into Arlington for dinner, and stopped here after our meal, eager to stretch our legs after eating way too much. I love this picture. I imagine it looks remarkably different during the day with sunlit details revealed, but it seemed very appropriate to me that we first saw the memorial this way in the dark mysteries of the night, for it is unimaginable what feelings that plane was charged with, filled with people about to make such a sacrifice.
On this Memorial Day, take a few minutes to think about your own ancestors, and how they served their countries and communities. You are who you are because of them and the decisions they made.
Update: If you are reading this via RSS, do click in for some Memorial Day additions I have collected in the comments this morning (links to other sites), revisiting this with my coffee.