|CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq, May 23, 2008 – Not long ago while I was sitting at my desk at work, a fellow soldier presented an interesting question, not because of what it was, but because of why he asked it. |
"So what's Memorial Day, again?" the soldier asked.
This kind of disturbed me. As it turns out, the confusion came from the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. While both are federal holidays to remember our nation's servicemembers past and present, only one commemorates the living.
The one that doesn't is May 26, the last Monday in May. That one would be Memorial Day. I just never thought I'd have to explain that to someone.
When Memorial Day comes around, a lot of thoughts rush to mind. Memories of picnics with the family, maybe catching the Indianapolis 500 on TV with a cold beverage in hand or enjoying the sun at a nearby public pool that just opened for the summer -- all of which are easily recognizable Memorial Day traditions. All the while, the true meaning of Memorial Day remains hidden in the back of our minds -- if it's even there at all.
Commemoration ceremonies and remembrances take place all over the United States on Memorial Day. We all know it's a holiday. It's a day off work, and it's got something to do with wars. Most people my age won't be seen at events like those. I know I've never been to my town's festivities -- not often, at least.
Four years ago, I would have been the last one to say I wanted to take time during the day commonly referred to as the beginning of summer to fill my head with sad memories of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who never made it home. That was then. Three years ago, I was about 60 kilometers north of here on Logistics Support Area Anaconda near Balad for Memorial Day, and this year, I'm in Baghdad.
To me and a lot of other servicemembers braving the sand, heat and bullets in Iraq, Memorial Day carries a new meaning -- to remember not only those servicemembers we know only by the names on their tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery, but also the ones with whom we've shared meals and laughs while trying to make the best of discomfort.
I'm fortunate enough to say that I haven't lost a friend over here, but as my job takes me from unit to unit, the list of acquaintances grows -- and more than a few might not make it home.
Three years ago, I knew Memorial Day would have a whole new meaning for me -- and it truly does -- because it could just as easily have been my name stretched across a banner for hometown heroes lost in battle.
One day, I'm sure I'll hear that question again: “Which one is Memorial Day?” or something of the sort. Unlike most people, I'll have a unique story to tell -- just as we all do.