Honoring Veterans on Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, Pause and Reflect on the Fallen

Memorial Day holds a special place in my heart and mind, where I gather my thoughts in a solemn assembly of two classmates who gave “the last full measure of their lives” to the American ideal.

As a child, I thought and played as a child. I spent the day surrounded by family and relatives at a lake cabin or resort. My cousins and I devoured grilled hot dogs smothered in ketchup and mustard and ate dill pickles and potato chips. We threw Frisbees, played catch, fished, hula-hooped, and played whatever other kid activity came to mind.

While we entertained ourselves, my Aunts and Uncles relaxed on lawn chairs or at picnic tables butted end-to-end with red gingham plastic tablecloths. My Uncles enjoyed beers and operated several charcoal grills, and my Aunts set out a banquet of homemade picnic foods. As they relaxed, they talked and talked, poked fun at their follies, and laughed until their sides ached and tears welled up in their eyes. But the show-stopper came when they hula-hooped after a few hours of social drinking. To see woozy grown-ups gyrating put us children in stitches! Of course, we begged them not to stop.

That was my childhood memory of Memorial Day. So if death and taxes are certain (Ben Franklin), then change is inevitable, and in time, Memorial Day took on a solemn face for me and others. Awareness comes in many colors. A wake-up call sounded recently when a combat veteran said those who died in uniform didn’t give up their lives so Americans could get a day off work. When Wayne Champion and Reinhard Schnurrer, two high school classmates, died in combat in the Vietnam War, my Memorial Day memories abandoned me.

Remembering Classmates Killed in Combat

So when Memorial Day approaches, Wayne and Reinhard come to mind. I’ve personalized their memories, which in a broader sense, solemnizes a portion of the day. Others display American Flags or wear a red poppy flower, a symbol of “Remembrance” and hope for a peaceful future, and show support for the Armed Forces.

Wayne and Reinhard graduated in 1966. Sometime after graduation, they enlisted. And after military training, they wound up in Vietnam, where they died in combat. They would never hug their parents again. They would never celebrate their twenty-first birthdays, marry, have children, walk a child down the aisle, see grandchildren, hold them, or bounce them on their knees. They would never celebrate an anniversary. On Memorial Day, they would never again be among Americans who remember those who died on battlefields but be among those so honored.

There are plenty of ways to honor the fallen. Many plant flags at veteran grave sites or visit a national cemetery. Even if you’re busy, set aside a moment at 3 p.m. local time to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance. It began in 2000. The Remembrance asks Americans to pause briefly in silence and reflect in their way. Wayne and Reinhard, if you’re listening, I remember you and share your memory with classmates who knew you.

Memorial in Jacksonville, North Carolina, for American servicemen and women who died in the Vietnam War. Rick Graf pays tribute to two high school classmates who died in combat.

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