In the small town where I grew up, summer always began with Memorial Day. I remember waiting with prideful anticipation to catch site of the American Legion Color Guard, knowing I’d see my Dad in the line of uniform-clad men, dressed in his Air Force blues and either balancing a flagpole on his hip or carrying a gun at his side.
As our local heroes stepped off around the courthouse square, townsfolk joined the parade for the short walk down the street to Rose Hill Cemetery. There, in the early summer sunshine, we’d recognize our soldiers, living and deceased. The ceremony always ended at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as taps were trumpeted from a far-away hillside. A solemn prayer released us all to our holiday activities.
A few years ago, my husband and I joined the Memorial Day service at a small cemetery near us. We heard the names of soldiers, mostly unknown to us, but familiar to many gathered around. Just as we did in my hometown half a century ago, our ceremony ended with prayer and a salute at the tomb of those whose names are unknown.
It struck me then. Our lives are filled with “unknown” soldiers — men and women who anonymously laid down their lives here and abroad, and who continue to do so today, so that I could live and raise a family in freedom and safety. My own father and his three brothers all served in the United States military, one of them dedicating a career to military duty. In my hometown, we know their names, their histories, their pride and dedication, but to the rest of the world, they are virtually unknown.
This Memorial Day weekend, I’ll be thinking of family members, classmates, friends and neighbors who put on a uniform and committed to do their duty as defenders and protectors of our nation. May they be known and honored, not just at the end of May, but every day.
“The greatest glory of a free-born people is to transmit that freedom to their children.” ~ William Havard, chaplain to the armed forces during World War I.