I wrote this memoir five Memorial Days ago. Now, more than fifteen years later, the day remains fresh in my memory as though it happened today. Partly, this is because it has happened on more than one Memorial Day. I hope you celebrate with your family in the spirit of what Memorial Day truly means. It is far more than a bank holiday, beer and barbecue.
With one little hand nestled in mine and the other wrapped tightly around ten red carnations, my daughter was pensive as we walked through the cemetery. Both sides of the walkway through the center stood forty flags, as sentinels over their defenders. Each and every white soapstone headstone shone stark against the lushness of the green grass and vividness of the tiny flags planted at their bases.
She slowed and then stopped completely. I quizzically gazed down at her as she released my hand and walked silently between the stones. She stopped before one, appearing to read the inscription. Her little knees touched the dewy grass beside the stone, and her tiny hand reached out to touch it. She took one bloom and placed it tenderly between the stone and the flag.
Over the next fifteen minutes, she roamed, questing for the perfect places. Soon, her blossoms distributed, she came back to me without a word and took my hand. I asked her, “Are you finished?” The words which came from her mouth would etch in my mind forever. With compassion and wisdom no one expects from adults, a three-year-old changed my vision of patriotism.
“Momma, these people loved America enough for us to be free.”
I was breathless. A tear slid down my cheek, as I knelt to hold her. Out of the mouths of babes come the most unabashed innocence. She pulled away and wiped the tear from my face. “Momma, may I have your flowers?”
Opening the bag I had brought, I handed her ten more blooms. “Do you want me to go with you?” I wanted to know what she was seeing.
“No, Momma. I can do it.”
With that, she walked to the other side of the cemetery to repeat her earlier actions. I went to the stones where she had laid the first blossoms. I knew she could not read all the words, but she had placed a flower on the stones which bore the names of husbands and wives, forever to lie together.
“I need one more.” She startled me standing beside my elbow. We walked back over to the bag and opened the last bundle of flowers. She held them tightly and took my hand. “I want you to read me this one.”
Near the far fence, she led me to a spot when the markers were cordoned into a rectangle, and the stones were laid flat. A statue of an angel stood amid the small stones. She walked up to the angel and lay the flowers at her feet. “What is she saying, Momma?”
With tears in my eyes, I read the inscription to her. “To our fallen brethren who will not be brought home, we ask this angel to grace your memories, your bravery and your sacrifice. May she grant our prayer that one day we never add more charges to her care.”
Standing in silence, she nestled against my leg in the shadow of the angel.
Many more blossoms would we bring over the years. Friends and siblings would join in our pilgrimage. Poignant, reverent and grateful is our family’s celebration of Memorial Day.
To those who serve, have served and have fallen, you hold a special place in my heart. Your service is not in vain, is not forgotten. You are forever in my memory.