I saw my dad cry two times. The second time was 1986, when my mom died. The first time was in the early ‘70s, when my brother, Tom, had been home on leave, and as we said goodbye to him at the Muskegon airport we knew his aircraft carrier was headed to the waters near Vietnam.
Dad knew the score. This goodbye meant there might never be another hello with his beloved son.
Today is Memorial Day. It is not Veteran’s Day, which is November 11. It is not Armed Forces Day, which is marked the third Saturday in May. It is Memorial Day, the day we remember and give thanks for those who died during their service to our nation.
Originally, this day was called Decoration Day because spring has grown reliably warm enough that it is safe to adorn graves with summer flowers. It was renamed Memorial Day to better remind us of the importance of remembrance.
I hate goodbyes. Thus, when I think of Memorial Day, I think of all of the goodbyes said by loved ones who sent sons and daughters off on planes and trains and in cars, and in former days on horse or by foot, who at the least hoped for, and at the most expected another hello. But they did not enjoy another hello, because their flesh and blood gave his or her flesh and blood—in whatever manner they lost their lives while in the armed forces—that we might continue to live in freedom in the greatest nation on earth.
My older brother, Tom, came home from oversees, as would my younger brother, Dave, and we continue to enjoy hellos. My father came home from overseas after serving during World War II, had a long, wonderful, productive life, and then we said so long to him. As thankful as I am for the service to me and our country of some of my own flesh and blood, this day is not about them.
Today, we remember and give thanks for those who said the goodbyes when tears and fears never had the chance to be dried and assuaged by joyous homecoming hellos. I hate goodbyes, but I have never had a goodbye be the final words I said to a loved one, whom I sent off to serve my nation. My heart, therefore, is all the more solemn for those who have lived through this hardest of goodbyes.
For the sacrifice of those we memorialize, today, I give thanks. For the sacrifice made by their families, I give thanks. For the freedoms protected, in which I enjoy a nation that provides me a life of peace and prosperity, I give thanks.