I drove out to Great Lakes National Cemetery today …
Normally, my wife Debbie and I do that on Memorial Day, but for some reason I couldn’t settle my thoughts while trying to write my Memorial Day blog, so I dropped the work on which I was unable to concentrate anyway, and made the drive—alone. I thought perhaps that a blue sky, green grass, and solitude at grave marker 5-595 might help.
Oh, that helped alright—helped break open a floodgate of memories, thoughts, and tears! Then it hit me—that is really the whole meaning of Memorial Day each year! Sadly, the true meaning is often lost in a sea of activities rather than being discovered—not to mention, appreciated from hearts overflowing with gratitude—by those who take the time to remember!
The mode of transportation today was my red 1965 Olds Cutlass. Frankly, I thought Justin would appreciate that. As I parked along the curb on the Avenue of Flags, with Justin’s grave off to my right, I shut the car off and just sat there—looking and thinking.
Ahead of me some 400 yards were lines of automobiles, staged where all vehicles gather for funeral processions. I reflected on how those families felt in those moments, remembering all-too-well the day I stepped from a black limousine with my family and made my way to my seat in a temporary pavilion.
The memory of numbly starring at a flag-draped casket a few feet in front of me seemed to me like instant replay as I contemplated the cars ahead of me today. I understand a bit of what they must be feeling as the drivers pull away, following the lead car.
Then I instinctively grabbed my cell phone from the seat, and after allowing a couple of vehicles to pass, I stepped from the car, and slowly made my way to 5-595. While walking, I noticed how many markers have been added to section 5 since Justin’s marker was set. In this one national cemetery alone an average of 11 fresh graves are dug and filled with someone’s loved ones every business day.
If you run those numbers, they add nearly 3000 veterans each year to this one location. That totals some 30,000 new additions to Great Lakes National Cemetery since taps shattered my thoughts on 09 October 2006.
It’s no wild guess on my part—I know those families … no, that’s too abstract … those spouses and their children, those parents and grandparents, whose loved ones have been laid to rest in whatever cemetery, can’t forget on Memorial Day or any other day of the year!
Is it asking too much of a rather self-absorbed society to pause for a few minutes once each year—on Memorial Day—and remember and respect those who paid the ultimate price for our collective freedom? I don’t think so—neither did the countless thousands of families dating back nearly to the Civil War—and neither does the 1% of America who shoulders the responsibility of defending our nation, so that the other 99% can enjoy the freedom which they provide.
BTW, do you pray? If so, there is no better time than now, and no better day than Memorial Day, to spend at least a few minutes in prayer. Every American, at the minimum, should express gratitude for those men and women who saw a cause bigger than themselves and that cause was you, me, and their posterity. We owe a debt that we can never fully pay.
Everyone who lives under that beautiful red, white, and blue flag with its stars and stripes should also petition the Almighty—you know, the God in whom our Founding Fathers believed and Washington DC seems to have forgotten—that He would spare America and preserve the freedom purchased for us by those whose bodies rest in the dust from which each was created.
Then add to you prayer an appeal for strength for the families who have an empty seat at their tables—whether it has collected the dust of decades or is fresh with pain, as those friends and families in the processional earlier today. At my grandson Jayden’s baseball game recently, his sister Caitlin ran up behind Debbie and me, with the exuberance of a ten-year-old who was excited to see Grandma Debbie and Papa Pete.
A moment later she gone, leaving me with a recurring and inescapable thought—there goes a little girl who will never know her daddy. You see, she was only two days old when Justin deployed. Think about it! Freedom’s price tag is far greater than you can imagine.
With that said, any people who mindlessly puts boating and barbecuing, picnics and parades, above remembrance of those who paid the price for freedom disgraces the country I love and those who died defending it. However, even in America’s forgetfulness, comes the haunting biblical prediction of the characteristics of those living in “the last days”—unthankful!
May that never be truthfully said of you and me. Let’s give ourselves this Memorial Day 2016 to gratitude and to expressing it appropriately … by reflecting and remembering.