Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer here in the United States (the actual start of the season is still almost a month away, even though 90-degree temps in our nation’s capital this weekend made everyone feel otherwise). It’s a weekend often filled with backyard barbecues, days at the beach, and spending time with family and friends.
I spent the weekend at the National Mall, taking in the monuments built to honor great leaders in our nation’s history and the sacrifices made in wars our nation has fought. Across the Potomac sits Arlington National Cemetery, where so many soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines find their final rest.
I couldn’t help but feel a little bit irreverent as I drove the four hours south to meet back up with my family in Virginia Beach. As I packed a cooler of snacks and added extra towels to our beach bag, I wondered if I was properly honoring the sacrifices that we are meant to remember on Memorial Day. Shouldn’t I be somberly standing near a grave, thinking of the last moments of the military man or woman who rested at my feet?
But I have to say as a veteran that I can think of no better way I would wish to be remembered, had I been the one called to make that sacrifice, than a day filled with fun and laughter. During my time in the Navy, I was removed from immediate and violent combat. I engaged with the mission most often through a pair of binoculars from the bridge of a warship. I never had a moment when I truly faced my own mortality while wearing the uniform.
But based on what I learned on my own and from other military members, I am fairly confident that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice would prefer to be celebrated surrounded by family and friends as well. You see, the old adage “work hard, play harder” is alive and well within America’s troops. Maybe because at a minimum the job does require that everyone reflects on being asked to sacrifice (and follow through on that promise for some), military members approach liberty time with an enthusiasm I have yet to see matched by any other group.
So open a cold beverage of your choice and raise a toast to those military men and women who are no longer here so that we can all enjoy the freedoms that are a part of our everyday lives.
Happy Memorial Day!