Last year was the first time Memorial Day really affected me.
I’m ashamed to admit that. 2012 wasn’t my first year with military association—my mother served in the Army and deployed to Saudi Arabia when I was seven. It wasn’t my first year as a veteran myself, or my first year with a connection to a military comrade killed in action.
Memorial Day 2012 was, however, the first time I gave the holiday the consideration it deserves.
Previously, I’d bounced between opposite ends of the spectrum of observance. Before I served in the military, I flitted past the final Monday of May without much thought. There are so many distractions in civilian America: work, family, friends, school, health, groceries, cleaning, sports, hobbies, politics . . . With holiday weekends come travel, traffic, sun (or complaints about rain), relaxation, barbeques and beer . . . It’s easy to overlook the meaning of the holiday; or to simply acknowledge, but not honor the purpose.
In the military, it’s impossible to forget. Reminders are everywhere, every day of every year.
My base in Afghanistan had a memorial wall with portraits of each of the 17 fallen comrades of Paktya province. I stared at those photos daily; proud faces of young men who had died in the space where I lived and worked. My base in Florida had names chiseled into a memorial outside the base chapel. There were plaques in the airpark commemorating those lost in aircraft crashes. Streets shared names with fallen Airmen. I attended memorial services; I wrote profiles on their subjects. Every day was Memorial Day.
I don’t remember how I spent Memorial Day 2011, my first year out of the military. Maybe I was stuck in limbo on that spectrum—at once too separated from the military, cozy with my family in my childhood home in Seattle; and too close, my war still fresh and raw and unprocessed.
As Memorial Day approached last year, my mind went back to the faces in Paktya and the names at Hurlburt Field. It lingered for a long time with memories of Randy Voas, Ryan Hall and JD Loftis. I didn’t tell my mind to go there, but I didn’t try to redirect it either. I let those names and faces and memories form a backdrop to my time with family, to my sun and relaxation, food and drink. I toasted them. Then for one minute on Memorial Day, at 12:01pm Eastern Standard Time, I closed my eyes and cleared my head of everything but the names and faces I knew, and the countless others I didn’t, who made the ultimate sacrifice.
On some level, those names and faces are always with me now. They are part of who I am as a veteran. I can already feel them pushing a little harder as Memorial Day weekend approaches, and like last year, I won’t push back. I will again bring them to the forefront for a minute of silence this Memorial Day, and I hope you will do the same.
12:01pm EDT Monday: #GoSilent for one minute to honor the men and women who have given their lives for our country.