27 years ago this week, I was flying back to the United States after a year-long deployment in the Middle East for Operation Desert Storm.
The sudden squealing of massive rubber tires touching down onto the asphalt let me know we had landed in Bangor, Maine. Even though my watch showed it was 7 in the morning, most of the major restaurants like Red Lobster had opened to offer free meals to returning troops during our layover there.
I was tired, dirty, and at first chose to stay on the plane to catch a catnap while we were on the ground. I told myself there were about 300 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who wouldn't get to be seated at the tables that day because I saw the statistics in my mind--the casualties from that conflict numbered 148 U.S. servicemembers killed in action, and 145 non-combat deaths, including 15 women. However, the joy I felt because I was back in my homeland talked me into deplaning and setting my sights on claiming a steak platter.
I found myself back in a Red Lobster this week, and it’s interesting what memories whispered in my mind, flashing pictures of a conflict far, far away.
Memorial Day is the day to remember our war dead. After the Civil War, and the installation of our country’s first national cemeteries, people began to visit gravesites of loved ones to decorate and recite prayers. Eventually, in 1966, the federal government established a day in late May as Memorial Day.
We used to sing a cadence when we were marching or running in formation.
“Around her hair she wore a yellow ribbon!
She wore a yellow ribbon in the merry month of May!
Around her hair she wore a yellow ribbon!
She wore it for a paratrooper far, far away!”
We remember, because if it weren’t for those who sacrificed before us, I wouldn’t have had the honor to serve my country in uniform.
That’s why I celebrate Memorial Day. Not with barbecues or picnics or festivities.
I celebrate with revering the memories of those who served, near and far, far away.