Memorial Day: More Than the First Day of Summer


Memorial Day brings back memories of rich traditions in my mother’s and father’s households, and service in our Armed Forces by multiple generations.

Growing up, my parents would have their three children dress up a little and visit cemeteries in Oklahoma and Lincoln Counties to pay homage to deceased family members. It was a wonderful tradition capped by a picnic lunch at terrific Tilghman Park in Chandler, Oklahoma, complete with fried chicken. It used to be a historic National Guard encampment site.

The American cemetery at Normandy, France. Some 10,000 are buried here.

My mom and her surviving brother are reprising that tradition today, and I’m sorry not to be there with them in person. I’ll be there in spirit.

Memorial Day – it used to be called Decoration Day – came about in 1868. Former Union generals gathered at Arlington Cemetery to honor the Civil War dead. It is now an official federal holiday to honor all those who have died while serving in the Armed Services. It has since been expanded to include remembering all loved ones who have passed on.

My family, probably like yours, is blessed with a wonderful tradition of military service. A great-great Grandfather buried in Chandler served under and “marched to the sea” with Union General William T. Sherman. He was likely the first ancestor in my family to visit Washington, DC, marching in the victory parade after the Civil War under the watchful eyes of President Andrew Johnson and Gen. Sherman. A statue of Sherman just off the south lawn marks the spot where he monitored his troops as they marched past the White House’s south portico.

Monument to Union General William T. Sherman near the White House south lawn

A grandfather and four uncles served during World War II. Two uncles served in Vietnam. My dad served during the Korean War. And my Army infantry son, a First Lieutenant, carries on that tradition with his deployment to Africa. While all my uncles and great uncles survived conflicts, I know many of their colleagues did not. We honor them today. We would not be here – literally – without them.

This year is far from over, but a top memory will be my wife’s and my visit to the American cemetery and the beaches at Normandy in April. My son’s current regiment (29th Infantry Division, 116th Regiment, Virginia National Guard) lost nearly 90 percent of their troops at Omaha Beach on that fateful morning of June 6, 1944. We honor them today and all who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

For some, Memorial Day is the first day of summer. Others honor loved ones who have passed. This day ultimately belongs to those who gave their lives while serving in the Armed Forces. #MemorialDay

Many of the gravesites at Normandy are of unknown soldiers.
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