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What Memorial Day Means to Me

(Getty Images - Used With Permission)

“And they who for their country die shall fill an honored grave, for glory lights the soldier’s tomb, and beauty weeps the brave.” ~ Joseph Drake

In 1966 I was sitting with a friend, in a makeshift outdoor theater, in Cu Chi, South Vietnam. We were both chess partners and short timers. By that I mean we were headed home in the next 90 days or so. We couldn’t get actual movies so we were watching episodes of “Combat” and “Cheyenne,” two popular TV shows of that era that the Army showed nightly.

My friend was the supply Sargent who already had his replacement in place being trained. I had been a carpenter / truck driver, but being a short timer, I had been transferred into the headquarters company doing bills of lading for our construction projects. I also did double duty as the driver for the company commander, Captain John B. Kidd. I know — Captain Kidd.

At the movie my friend and I chatted about what we were going to do when we got home. Job, family, all the usual stuff short timers think about. He’d shown me pictures of his wife and little girl many times. He wrote her every day.

The Call

Since he had a replacement, he decided to hitch a ride to Saigon for the weekly supply run. Something he’d done numerous times. I was in the headquarters tent that morning when the call came in. I answered, and got the news that his truck had hit a land mine and he’d been blown through the roof of the vehicle. The only identification possible was his “dog tags.”

A few days later, what was left of the truck, was returned to the motor pool to salvage whatever parts could be reused. It was hard to look at remembering the night not too long ago talking about our futures. For him, there would be no future.

The Wall

Bozeman is indeed fortunate to have a representation of the “Vietnam Memorial” in our city. I have not been able to visit because I just can’t bring myself to see his, and other names I would know, on that wall. In hindsight Vietnam was probably a bad decision. Over 50,000 men and women, plus countless maimed and wounded, lost their lives in that conflict. Most look at it as a waste or a profiteering opportunity for companies that profit from war products. Most feel it was the first war America ever lost.

I have never felt that people who did not serve in the military are not qualified to comment on the military. I do feel that those of us who did serve in the military have a perspective for our comments and thoughts that others don’t. I do know one thing. Everyday our military was in Vietnam was one more day that the people we protected got to live freely. Something we in this country so often take for granted. When we left 3 million Vietnamese people were murdered and no one shed a single tear.

The Traditions

Memorial Day, previously known as Decoration Day, was first celebrated on May 30, 1868 to honor the Civil War dead. The last Monday in May was chosen because it was assumed that flowers would be in bloom in all states by that date.

The custom of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day started in 1915 and was inspired by Moina Michael’s poem “In Flanders Fields”: “We cherish too, the Poppy red / That grows on fields where valor led, / It seems to signal to the skies / That blood of heroes never dies.”

Since the late 1950s, on the Thursday just before Memorial Day, 1,200 soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry place small American flags at each of more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol, 24 hours a day, during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing. Memorial Day was made a national holiday by Congress in 1971.

In 2000, the “National Moment of Remembrance Resolution” passed. At 3 PM on Memorial Day, all Americans are asked to observe a moment of remembrance and respect by pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to taps.

Some Final Thoughts

For many Americans, Memorial Day means sales, cookouts, family get-togethers and parades. For others, it’s an empty seat at the picnic table. Someone’s son, daughter, father or mother, grandfather or grandmother made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom’s and liberties we all enjoy.

So while you’re enjoying the steaks, burgers or hot dogs, potato salad and baked beans, take a moment at 3 PM today to remember how blessed we are in this great country and those who kept us safe. While you honor the loss, celebrate and savor their lives and always remember. I believe that’s all they would have asked in return.

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