Memorial Day Weekend, a three day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, all things that I heard this past weekend. Is that what Memorial Day Weekend is about? Camping, resting and relaxing, and barbeques with family, these are all important things and events. However, often I think we get so caught up in our lives that we miss the real meaning of holidays like Memorial Day.
Memorial Day was set aside as a time for us to remember those who protected the freedoms that we often take for granted. I am not sure I really understood the meaning of the holiday until recently and even now I am not sure I still completely grasp the sacrifice made for me. My Memorial Day experience helped bring the message home, let me share that with you.
We went to the Attica cemetery to decorate the graves of Jennifer’s family. Call me morbid but one of the things I do is to walk through the cemetery and read the grave stones. I walked up and down the rows of stones reading each one. I especially paused at those marked by American flags. Each had a marker displaying the unit each person served in and many stated which war. Some with ending dates before the end of the war, many with indicators of a life lived after the war.
For some reason a thought hit me, one that should have occurred to me long ago. Each of these veterans left their life and families at home. They felt the calling to protect our country, and dropped what they were doing to go to a foreign land, put themselves in harm’s way to insure our ability to live freely. They left businesses, school and farms to enlist in one of the armed forces.
Those of us who are in agriculture know that it is no small task to our farms and ranches for a weekend, these brave men and women left for years at a time. They felt a since of duty that led them to do the most difficult thing any farmer and rancher could do, leave their farm, ranches and families. They left with crops to be planted or harvested, hay to be baled, sheep, pigs and cows to be tended to, all because there was another, more pressing job to be done. They left not knowing if they would return.
We should also not forget the parents, children and younger siblings left behind to make sure the crops were harvested and food was available. They stepped up and shouldered the yoke, pulling more weight than they would have been asked to normally. They kept things running back home while the most able bodied protected us in faraway lands.
I was humbled as I watched the memorial service. The flags and honor guard silhouetted by the golden wheat fields in the distance, the red, white and blue of our flag framed by the brilliant blue of the sky. I could only imagine a soldier taking one last look at the ripe wheat on a hot day, perfect for harvest as he left for war. I am sure he was assured by his family that they would make sure the work was done, all they while hoping he would be back before the next harvest.
I listened to the speeches and watched the veterans as they talked about the sacrifice of their comrades. I am sure the meaning of the day hits closer to home when you stood beside someone who did not come back, when you personally know what sacrifice means. Knowing that those you knew never made it home for harvest. It is for their sake that we need to remember that Memorial Day is more than just a three day weekend.
I am not saying we should devote the entire holiday to remembrance (although I am also not saying it would be a bad thing), rather I hope that next year each of us will take time to attend one of the ceremonies. I hope you will stop to think about the sacrifice made on our behalf, a sacrifice that insured that our great nation would stand strong and that the freedoms we take for granted would remain. I know we all have family members who served and most of us have family members who sacrificed. Take time to remember them next year.
That afternoon as we drove by the golden wheat fields and green pastures, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and a numbing feeling of gratitude for those brave men and women who served and continue to serve our armed forces. They sacrificed and continue to sacrifice well-being and many times their lives to give us the benefits and luxuries we all enjoy. The least we can do is give them a couple of hours.