Anyone passing our local cemetery would notice scores of American flags fluttering. Most of the wooden sticks holding the flags have been inserted into a bronze holder formed in the shape of a star and stamped with United States Army. Each May, the worn and tattered flags remaining from the previous year are replaced as citizens prepare the cemetery for Memorial Day.
As a child, Memorial Day meant no school, decorating my bike with small flags and riding it in the town parade along with many other kids. Conveniently, the parade marched down the road leading to my elementary school and while it probably proceeded to the town’s cemetery, my ride ended at my school. The picnics with extended family filled the remainder of the day, with games of croquet, badminton following the food. If it rained, the men set up the folding table in our garage, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs in the overhang while we kids played Monopoly. I know the adults discussed their friends who had served in World War II and died. My mother described how she and her classmates picked bouquets of lacy white spirea blossoms to decorate the graves of the fallen from past wars. But the only battles I had witnessed were between my brother and his friends when they refought the Civil War.
Then Vietnam arrived, and a friend of my brother died. A returning soldier who entered the geology department at my small college participated in a week long field trip. Before heading in to the men’s tent for the night, he warned everyone about his nightmares, and advised the guys not to get too close to his sleeping bag. No matter how much we badgered Bob, he never shared the source of the nightmares. The Vietnam War had altered him to the point that he legally changed his last name. While most vets did not receive a hero’s welcome, today, they form the teams inserting flags into medal holders, and preparing for Memorial Day.
Over the years many Memorial Day parades have marched past our farm on their way to the cemetery that borders our land. Like most parents, before we were prepared, our eldest son turned eighteen, graduated from high school, and joined the Navy. For most of his enlistment, his sailed the seas, experiencing new lands and cultures. But eventually, he transferred into the Army, deployed to Afghanistan, and returned to the States suffering from PTSD. Despite assistance from the Army, a year later, he ended his life.
Like the many other vets, this Memorial Day, a fresh flag waves at his grave. On Monday, a high school student will present a speech, a pastor will give a prayer, a volley of gun shots will pierce the solitude of the farm, and the notes of taps will float over our hay fields.
This Memorial Day, please remember the men and women who died serving our country. I’m sure some of you reading this post are veterans who lost friends in war or you are from families who experienced the men in blue knocking on your door. May God comfort each one of you and bring you healing. The next time you visit the farm, please share your story