Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Memorial Day

Growing up, I mostly thought of Memorial Day as a time to remember those we had lost, not necessarily only military veterans.  My grandparents passed away when I was 13 and 14, so we would sometimes make a trip to Kansas to put flowers at their grave.  It was always important to my mom that we have something there for Memorial Day.
I knew the holiday had military significance, but we did not discuss it that much.  Maybe it was because people thought of war in the past or maybe we didn't really know anyone personally who had lost a loved one in a war. (Desert Storm was going on, but it seemed very distant).  We would always sing patriotic hymns at church, and veterans would be recognized, but I did not fully grasp the meaning.  I do remember our junior high school was right next to a National Cemetery.  We would go place flags at each of the fallen soldiers' headstones the Thursday or Friday before Memorial Day weekend.  I was always in awe of the number of headstones right there in Little Rock and thought of the families who had lost their sons, brothers and husbands, many in the Civil War.
Little Rock National Cemetery
Little Rock National Cemetery
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, History Program
Fast forward to 2001.  Scott and I spent Memorial Day weekend moving him to his new house in San Antonio as he began his military pediatric residency at Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston.  I flew back to Little Rock by myself not knowing our future and the effect of the long distance.  We got engaged in August.  I was working at the Arkansas Capitol when 9/11 happened, and I sent Scott a page. He called me back; I was panicking--what did this mean for him since he was in the Army?  He said he was protected because he was in training.  My roommate picked me up from the airport a month later and told me we had gone to war.  I had a huge knot in my stomach, wondering how long would this war last?  Would it finish before Scott's three years of training were over?  What did it look like for someone to go to war today?
We got married Memorial Day weekend 2002.  It was nice that the church was decorated with the flags lining the drive, especially looking back in retrospect that I was becoming a military wife.  When I flew away by myself the previous Memorial Day, my heart was ripping out of my chest, but a year later, I was flying away to my honeymoon.
I returned from the honeymoon to go through inprocessing with my ID card and Tricare and power of attorney.  I learned what a Shoppette was and how to shop at the commissary and BX.  I took his BDU's (Battle Dress Uniform) to the cleaners, because they were awful to iron, and I thought he looked so handsome when he wore his Class A's to clinic (light green button down shirt with dark green pants).  At first I questioned, are the kids scared of you in your BDU's and combat boots?  only to stop myself and realize that their mommies and daddies were coming home in the same uniforms.
It was time for Scott to graduate residency in 2004.  The war was still going on.  We were given orders to Heidelberg, Germany, and once we arrived we were assured that no pediatrician had been deployed from that clinic.  In February, we received the word that Scott would deploy to Iraq with the First Armored Division for a year, beginning in November.  He would be a doctor to the soldiers and possibly civilians in Iraq.  Our friend Doug who lived below us helped Scott get his gear together for trainings and he transitioned over to the new ACU (Army Combat Uniform).
Scott ended up leaving in January 2006 and returning in February 2007.  It was a long time, people.  (Sidenote:  this hit me in a real, fresh way yesterday, and perhaps why I am writing today. Exactly 13 months ago, our moving truck unloaded us here in our new home in Nashville.  Yesterday I reflected on everything we had been a part of the past 13 months, the activities, trips, company, house projects--a lot has happened!  It was really hard for me to grasp in retrospect the amount of time we had endured apart during the deployment, another 13 months.  I couldn't believe we had made it that long apart!)
Back to Memorial Day.  While Scott was in Iraq, I got a surprise phone call on our anniversary, May 26, right before I left to go substitute at the high school.  I told him something wasn't right with Doug, and he reassured me he would figure out what was going on, because he had just seen him.  Of course, later that day I found out Doug had been killed by an IED blast.  Now Memorial Day is incredibly personal. (if you want to read my friend Nicole's story after losing Doug, click here).  After Memorial Day, Scott was in Ramadi until mid-February, and they lost a lot of soldiers out there.  I realize that it is nice to remember our loved ones who have passed way, unfortunately many due to tragedy or sickness that seem to have died too soon, but now that we have lost so many soldiers in recent years, it is an excruciating reminder of the sacrifice, and I regret that I did not fully grasp the loss of soldiers from WWI, WWII, Korean War, Civil War, Viet Nam War, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and any other conflicts/operations.

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