Every Memorial Day weekend for decades has found me somewhere across our country, addressing audiences regarding the purpose of this hallowed time of remembrance. Sunday, 27 May 2018 was no exception. To my heart, spending time with Pastor Bill Herald, his wife Phylis, and their congregation had special meaning for this Gold Star dad.
Although yesterday’s morning service was at First Baptist Church of Crystal Lake (IL), almost twelve years ago, on Sunday, 01 October 2006, I had also spoken for Pastor Herald at First Baptist Church of Sparta (IL). You see, it was after the third service of the day that Bill, Phylis, and I were awaiting our late-evening meal at a local restaurant, when I received a phone call that would change my life.
My daughter-in-law Patty, after asking where I was, if I was alone, and if I was driving, broke the news to me that her husband—my oldest son Justin—had been killed that morning in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. I will forego any attempt to describe the impact of that brief phone call.
However, as I spoke to the wonderful congregation yesterday in Crystal Lake, there was an inexplicable chemistry in the auditorium as I spoke, but one that comes when an audience knows that the speaker really understands experientially the subject of his address. Also, the day was special to my heart because I was sharing time yesterday with the two friends who were there for me when I received that devastating news.
As I’m composing this essay, another friend—an OR nurse from Commerce Township (MI) texted, asking “How do you separate your pride from your pain?” My answer: “I think it’s inseparable on a day like this.” Perhaps that harnesses the very purpose of Memorial Day—meditating on the pride in the shared values that have made America the greatest nation in human history as well as the painful price that has been paid.
Reality is this—one percent of Americans shoulder the responsibility of the military safety and security for the remaining 99%. Some of the 99% will mistake Memorial Day as a time to celebrate freedom … and I understand. However, that is the purpose of the 4th of July.
Others of the 99% will thank the men and women in uniform for their military service. While that is well and good, that is the purpose of Veterans Day each 11 November … and I understand. A few (and I hope it is no more than a few) may celebrate the holiday but forget altogether the sobering significance of this day.
However, on this day there are families across this land who truly understand that America should observe, not celebrate, Memorial Day. They have no trouble remembering because they can never forget … and I understand.
Neither our Fallen nor their Gold Star families want your pity or sympathy. We want your respect, your remembrance, and your gratitude for the freedom you enjoy, purchased by so few to benefit so many and at such great cost. Parents have been deprived of their offspring to make that purchase for you.
Lonely spouses embrace soft pillows at night rather than the rock-hard bodies of their life mate, crying themselves to fitful sleep—a price they paid for you. Children graduated from kindergarten, high school, and college, but without a parent to cheer their accomplishment. They did not ask to pay the price, but the price was still paid—for you.
BTW, do you pray? If so, wouldn’t today be an excellent time to press the ”Pause button” for a few minutes of your day, try to imagine the sacrifices of others—for you—and speak your gratitude to the ears of The Almighty God? I know that the extended Peterson family would appreciate your remembrance of U.S. Marine Corps Captain Justin Dale Peterson.
Now … as soon as I hit the “Publish” button, I think my wife and I will fire up the red ’65 Cutlass and drive up to Great Lakes National Cemetery and express that gratitude in person.