May 28, 2011

The Meaning of Memorial Day.

I stood still and reverent in my white wool uniform at the entrance to the cemetery. I sharply gave the order for the band to march into place. The drum cadence sounded, several quick clicks, and we moved into our spot. The halt order sounded, and I was poised to signal the band to begin playing Taps followed by Amazing Grace. There were veterans of many foreign wars waiting for the names of their brothers in arms to be read in solemn remembrance. 

At my signal, the lone silver trumpet raised and sang Taps to those who had died in war, and to those who stood to remember them. Then I raised my white gloved hands, and the meticulously shined brass section raised their horns. The clear, precise notes sang out over the quiet grey headstones, and Old Glory was blowing in the wind. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the sight of grown men, older than my father weeping at our song. Our last note hung in the air over the silent veterans and their families, thus signaling the beginning of the Memorial Day festivities. We had a parade we needed to get to, and there would be fireworks later in the evening. Summer was shortly upon us.

Pre 9/11, pre-war, pre life as we know it now, Memorial Day was a place marker for the end of school, and the beginning of the blissful freedom of summer. For most people of my generation who'd never really seen or experienced war in any sense of the word, Memorial day was simply that. For the men wiping silent tears in the cemetery the day meant so much more. It's a meaning that I barely grasped at the tender age of 18, a drum major for the high school marching band, looking forward to the my graduation in the coming week and the start of my adult life.

The true meaning of Memorial Day vanished from my mind the instant I shed my white uniform and donned my jean cut-offs and a t-shirt. The sight of men crying over graves was not completely lost on me, but in no real way affected my life. My father had never served, nor had my grandfather. At that point in time, with the summer, and my life on the horizon, I could have never predicted that the full meaning of the day would be part of my future.

Today my husband is the one who wears the uniform. Today my country is engaged in a war I never thought I would see. A war I never thought would be so close to me every single day. Today I know too many men who've died defending our nation. Today the true meaning of Memorial Day is not lost on me. It hovers over my heart and my mind.  Memorial Day no longer signals the beginning of the simplicity of summer, but it still signals freedom. Today it is a day to remember all of those who have sacrificed and died for freedom. Today I join the ranks of those honoring the dead. Today Memorial Day means so very much more.

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