Memorial Day, which we recognize on the last Monday in May, is set aside specifically to remember those who gave their lives in the service our country. There are always questions that arise on Memorial Day about its purpose. Some say that it is to remember those who were lost in wartime. Some say that it is for those who died while serving in the military. Even others will tell you that it is also a time to remember those who have served and are now deceased.
With that short background, and with the understanding that some may question some of my remembrances as being more suited for other holidays, these are my thoughts as I contemplate the reason for this holiday.
Back when I traveled for business, I always used refundable fares, because it worked out to be less expensive in the long run with rescheduled flights and cancellations, etc. On more than one occasion, that meant that I was in the first-class cabin.
Once, I was on a plane waiting to return to Atlanta. A few minutes before we left, a young soldier got on the plane. He was a little red-eyed and I overheard the flight attendant ask him if “he was coming or going.” He said that he was on his way back to Iraq. Just then the pilot came out of the cockpit and asked him if the young lady and the child in the airport window were his wife and child. He told him that it was. The pilot asked him if he wanted to come into the cockpit and wave. He said yes, and the crew made room for him in the cockpit.
A few minutes later the kid comes back out and is fumbling through his pack trying to find his boarding pass. By that time, I had seen enough. I got out of my seat and told him and the attendant that he could have my seat and that I would take his. He looked at me with red eyes and you could see the gratitude. I asked him where he was going. He said Iraq. I told him I knew that, but I needed to know what seat he had. He told me, and I was happy to sit in 15A on the flight to ATL.
All the way home, I just sat there and stared out the window and thought about all the good people who leave family and friends here and who go in our place to dangerous places, proudly serving their and our country…and also of the ones who did not come home.
I do not know whatever became of Pvt. Damon, but he is on my mind on this weekend. One day, we will rightly honor and remember his sacrifice.
I did not serve in the military. I am too young for Viet Nam and too old for Desert Storm. However, my father in law, O. L. Jollay, left his Rabun County, Georgia home and served in England in World War II. My own father, Jerry Landers, Sr., left his young wife (my mother) behind and served on the front lines in Alaska during the coldest parts of the Cold War. They are both deceased, not while in service to their country, but afterward. We rightly remember their sacrifice as well.
As part of my law practice, I am appointed by the court to manage the business affairs of people who cannot do it for themselves. John Johnson was one of those persons. He had nothing except for his government benefits. He had no family that I knew of. But he had served in the U.S. Army. When he passed, I arranged for his interment in the National Cemetery in Canton, Georgia. There was no one in attendance except for me, the funeral director and Sergeant and Corporal who were the honor guard. I said a few words over Mr. Johnson and sat down. I did not know Mr. Johnson well, but I watched with bleary eyes as the honor guard folded the flag on his casket. The young Sergeant brought the flag over to me, knelt and offered me the folded flag and recited “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
That flag, along with his Bronze Star and Purple Heart, is on display in my office.
Whenever I am in Washington, DC, I always set aside time to go over to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the Tomb of the Unknowns. The Tomb is always guarded by a Sentinel, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, in all weather conditions. The Sentinels are members of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, the “Old Guard,” which has been in existence since 1784. Although the changing of the guard is attended by tourists during the day, it is always a solemn experience, with all of the honor and dignity that is attendant to watching over the Tomb which is inscribed with these words: “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY A SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD.” You never quite get used to it. It is for those, known and unknown, that gave their lives in the service of their country, that we, as a nation, pause to remember.
All of these men and women gave a portion of their time here on earth or even their very lives in the service of our great nation, whose freedoms we continue to cherish and enjoy because of their sacrifice. We must never forget. And we are grateful.