What does Memorial Day mean to you? Brats, burgers, beverages, and time spent with friends and family. We look forward to the long weekend, shorts, and flip flops, but the reason behind the celebration may often be overlooked.
My grandfather would wake up each morning and raise his flag. He would pull on the rope, and the pulley would squeak like a trapped field mouse. His eyes were fixed on Old Glory as the stripes waived, and the stars appeared and disappeared in the gentle breeze. With a few quick flips of his wrist, the hoist rope would be secured to the cleat. Melvin would take two large steps back, and again fix his gaze on our country’s flag. I remember counting in my head just to see how long his stare would last. One one-thousand, two-one thousand, three one-thousand. Often, his mental journey would be cut short when my grandmother’s voice would echo from inside the house soliciting his assistance with breakfast. He’d drop his head, square his shoulders, and return to his husbandly duties.
Melvin Swiderski served in World War II. As an infantryman, he would often tell me comedic stories about waking up intoxicated on a bus bench in Italy, and branding himself with nothing but his field knife and ink pen. My mom would quickly chastise him for filling my head with tales of crazy antics. Melvin would look at her, and then look back at me, and issue a playful wink. He didn’t speak of death, sorrow, loss, and anger, but, if you paid attention, you would catch a glimpse of anchored memories in the corner of his brown eyes.
I’ll never know the details of Melvin’s experience. He passed away in 2008, and was given a funeral with military honors. He was preceded in death by his wife Laura, so I had the privilege of presenting the flag to my Aunt Pat. I was wearing my dress blues, with my own combat ribbons pinned to my chest. She cried. I cried.
I served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Because of my service, I now have the privilege of telling my own tales of inebriated pit stops and youthful shenanigans. When the laughter begins to fade, my thoughts always drift toward memories that will forever tattoo my soul with appreciation, and deep-rooted respect for those who offered the ultimate sacrifice.
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for every soldier, airman, seamen, and Marine who has died serving in the American armed forces. My charge to you is to take a moment on May 29th to reflect on the importance of their actions. Memorial Day is to be celebrated, but never let the celebration over shadow the sacrifice.