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My Personal Story of Memorial Day (and Why It Matters)

Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it began in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.

This is the official explanation for our first three-day celebration each spring, but what is it really all about? It is easy for anyone interested in the history of this celebration to find more information about how it has evolved into our present observation, but I want to share a more personal history.

My Family's Story of Memorial Day

My first memories of Memorial Day come from the late forties or early fifties when our family would go to the little cemetery outside of Dwight, KS, to clean and plant flowers on the family plot each spring. My grandmother would spend time at each grave, telling we children who was buried there and what they were to us. Her father, she proudly pointed out, was a veteran.

To me, these gatherings were a signal that spring had come and were a day of fun with other families that were there caring for other family burial plots. Later, as a Boy Scout, I helped to put out flags on selected graves and discovered that my great-grandfather had served in the Civil War. That was also the point at which I took notice of the ceremonies put on by the Dwight American Legion and began to realize that those old men were once soldiers who fought in a war. My scoutmaster was one of those men and this made him stand even taller in my eyes.

For a boy growing up on the farm, war was something exciting and heroic, while death happens to someone else. I have no memory of WWII and from Korea I only remember our community celebrated the return of those who served there with a big parade.

My Personal Story of Memorial Day
Me, on duty aboard my first submarine.

What I Came to Realize About Memorial Day

After high school I joined the Navy and volunteered for submarine service, more from a sense of adventure than of patriotism, but there is something about serving in the military which tends to instill a greater sense of country. Yet it wasn’t until someone that I knew returned from Viet Nam in a flag draped coffin that the real meaning of Memorial Day began to dawn. Later I served as a pall bearer for another veteran of Viet Nam and the Memorial Day meaning was refreshed and engraved in my mind. I finally realized that bad things do happen to good people.

As the years went by my own sons grew up and one by one, each of them chose to enter military service. I am very proud of our three veteran sons and I encouraged them to serve. When Operation Desert Storm began, I learned something that had never crossed my mind when I encouraged those boys to join the military. It was far easier for me to go off to fight a war than it was to be the father who watches as his son does the same thing.

My Personal Story of Memorial Day
Our son, a medic in Iraq. He is caring for an Iraqi soldier and teaching other Iraqis how.

I have come to realize that wives, mothers, and fathers share that service in ways that only a loved one can understand. My family has been very fortunate in that neither I nor any family member who served died in military action. Even so each one of us carries scars that do not show but that will remain so long as we live. All of us have learned what the brotherhood of service means.

My son firing an M2
My son, practicing on the firing range.

Memorial Day Is a Time to Reflect

As I write this, I want to somehow share what this special day has come to mean to me. It really isn’t marching bands and inspiring words from important people. It is not inappropriate to celebrate the arrival of spring with family gatherings, picnics, and food, but we should pause for just a few moments to remember what brought this holiday into existence.

We need to share the combination of pride and pain of those who have lost a loved one in service to our country. Let us share the silent tear sliding down the cheek of a veteran as a bugle sounds taps for those who died in service. Think of that endless line that began with the Minute Men at Concord and that has continued all through our country’s history until this very day. There have always been ordinary people who put on a uniform and did extraordinary things in service to our country when called to serve. That endless line continues today in places like Afghanistan. Let us pray that the line never comes to an end.

Memorial Day is a time to reflect on common people who stepped up to do whatever they were asked when our country called on them, at the cost of their lives. Let us never forget that each one of them paid a price beyond anything we can ever repay.

Kirk Wood and Pam Wood

Author

Kirk and Pam Wood

Kirk & Pam have owned an RV of some type since 1972 and were fulltime from 2000 through 2011. They now reside in an RV-port community in east TX and travel part-time. They joined Escapees in 1996 and became Life Members in 2006. Kirk serves as Security Team Leader for Escapade. Find them online at Kirk & Pam’s RV Adventure.

 

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3 Responses to “My Personal Story of Memorial Day (and Why It Matters)

  • Donna Wagner
    6 months ago

    Thank you Kirk for this excellent Memorial Day reminder of the real meaning of the Holiday, thank you for your service, and for your son’s service.

  • Judy Stringer
    6 months ago

    Great article, Kirk! I agree completely. My family did the same thing. I was maybe four when I learned to make crepe paper roses with Mama and Sis and Jerry. We would put them on graves on Decoration Day, as May 30 was known then. (Late 40’s, early 50’s) Thank you and your family for your service!!

    Judy Stringer
    SKP 4245

  • Val Petkus, SKP#82876
    6 months ago

    Very well written, Kirk & Pam. I especially appreciate your perspective as one who served — THANK YOU! — and, one who has sons who served — THANK YOU again! My grandmother always hoped the iris & peonies would be in bloom for Decoration Day and would take great bouquets to the family cemetery.

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