Since childhood, I’ve been privileged to periodically visit Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington, VA), and for those experiences, I will be eternally grateful, because the foundation of respect and values established in the formative years of my life.
Because of my own parents’ values, they made certain that my siblings and I were exposed to the rich geography and history in America, which included numerous visits and vacations in Washington, D.C. While I was energized many times by running up the stairs to the top of the Washington monument, and intrigued by the wonders of the Smithsonian Institute, I think I was most impacted and influenced by Arlington National Cemetery.
As we walked in silence amongst the headstones, it was as though I could hear the silent shouts of those who had paid the ultimate price for the freedom that I enjoyed, but did not understand at that time. Of course, there were no audible voices, but in my mind I imagined who these men and women had been in life, the circumstances of their deaths, and the loneliness of their families left behind.
Visits to Arlington always included the solemn changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier where, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the reverent silence was only broken by the brief and staccato-like voices and crisp clinks of the guards and their boot heels and weapons. Regrettably, these days there seems to be little reverence or respect, but rather constant movement and even boisterous voices throughout any audience that gathers.
It’s at times like my last such experience at the Tomb of the Unknowns, which happened to be with my oldest son Justin, a USMC Captain, that I wonder if very many people grasp the significance of such moments and places anymore.
On this Memorial Day 2011, it would behoove all Americans to set aside some time—at least a few minutes—to quietly but deliberately walk through a national cemetery, not just to see it, but to reflect on what is represented by those rather plain, uniform headstones. Parents, you could use this holiday for one of the greatest lessons you ever teach your children by a one-hour visit, pointing out numerous lessons and explanations, answering questions, and most importantly exemplifying the respect due to America’s fallen who, by their service and sacrifice, have insured our freedom.
On that last visit to Washington, my son Justin and his wife Patty took Debbie and me, along with their son Jayden, to the World War II memorial. As we spoke in hushed tones about what we were seeing and thinking, Justin spotted a young lad, perhaps nine or ten years of age, climbing on one of the memorial’s walls. As quickly as a flash of lighting, Justin was standing by the young boy, ordering him off the wall, and with the demeanor of a USMC drill instructor (sans the volume) let the unaccompanied minor know that was not proper behavior and that this was not a playground.
Yep, I was proud of Justin—then and now. And I plan to make my annual Memorial Day stop at the Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly (MI) for a time of reflection in Section 5 at Site 595. Debbie and I will talk softly. We will probably laugh quietly. We will cry. We will pause to gaze across the acres of graves on what was once the property of Mr. Bryson Dexter Horton, the inventor of the “Square D” electrical switch, and remind my precious wife Debbie that what we are seeing is “the price of freedom”—yours and mine—and paid for with the lives of the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of those represented by each simple headstone.
Let’s not forget that represented also by each grave marker is an empty seat at dinner tables, a son or daughter whose parent will not teach them how to catch a baseball or swing a bat, a spouse who now bears the family burdens alone, and a parent whose dreams for their son or daughter now reside with honor and respect (as in my own case) in a section and site rather than on a street and in a city.
Neither let us forget that for those who, like Justin, put their faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, we who are alive and remain behind have an awesome hope and expectation—we expect to see our loved ones again and therefore do not sorrow because we lack hope.
Although the world joked and laughed this past week when the prophecy of an unwise preacher who set dates and times for the rapture, I for one still anticipate that great event at any moment. And since no one knows the day or the hour, I plan to live in such a manner as to be ready to catch up with my son—in a moment—in the twinkling of an eye!
BTW, do you pray? If so, why not take this Memorial Day 2011 to exercise the discipline of prayer? Thank God for the countless airmen, sailors, soldiers, and Marines who paid for your freedom? Ask God to encourage and preserve those who serve, as well as their families who must make-do in their absence. Appeal to the Lord on behalf of those who have an empty seat at their table, especially for those whose sacrificial experience is still fresh in their hearts and minds.
And for all Gold Star families in Michigan, coming soon to a Michigan Secretary of State office near you will be a special Gold Star license plate. Here’s a link to read about it: http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,1607,7-127–256829–,00.html
God Bless America and all of our soldiers, fallen soldiers and their families! They are all heroes!
I’m here via Gina’s recommendation … just wanted to thank you for the reminder. My husband served in Iraq from March 2003-Feb 2004 (Oper. Iraqi Freedom I) in a Combat Support Hospital (C*S*H) as the patient administrator. As part of a mortuary affairs team, he respectfully returned the fallen soldiers to their families with their personal items accounted for. It was his honor & privilege. I know he has not forgotten that there are many families like yours who have an empty place in their homes & in their hearts … so thankful your son knew Jesus! The hardest thing for my husband was the soldiers whose dog tags indicated they had “no religious preference” because it probably meant they did not have the same hope in eternity as we do. God bless your family this Memorial Day!
Thanks for your message and keeping our minds turned to the real reason for Memorial Day.
Thank you for your wonderful writing about the real meaning of Memorial Day. I too grew up understanding the real patriotism that each American should have. My dad retired military, my brothers and uncles served, my cousin died in the Vietnam War and my son is now in his 14th year Air Force and has done 4 deployments. Our prayers for you as you stand by your sons’ grave this holiday. I am thankful for our freedom that those who gave helped me have.
Dale, thank you for taking the time to remind us. My sympathy & prayers go out to you ,especially tomorrow. Isn’t it wonderful that God has made a way for you to one day be reunited with Justin ?!!…Blessed be the name of the Lord who daily loadeth us with benefits…. Blessed be the Lord whose mercies are new every morning…I pray for you daily.