Memorial Day weekend has significantly changed in meaning throughout my life.
I grew up in a the suburbs of Seattle in a community that didn’t have a lot of vocal veterans. There was no veteran’s cemetary, the VFW was tucked away under I-90, and occasionally one of the service bands would put on Music in the Park. Outside of that my exposure to the military and veterans was relatively sheltered. Memorial Day weekend was the weekend I slept in and the pools generally opened.
In Washington the high school spring sports state championships are typically held on Memorial Day weekend. In 1996 we lost the State AA soccer championship to West Valley Yakima by a final of 3–2 on Memorial Day weekend the day after playing out of our trees and beating cross city rival Seattle Prep in a double-overtime shootout.
High school is where my understanding of the meaning of Memorial Day began; my academic advisor and close family friend Mr. Slatt was an aeroscout in the Vietnam war and (at the time) still serving warrant officer in the National Guard. Mr. Slatt was shot down in Vietnam and had to eject; he lived and his pilot did not. The head of the alumni developmental office was MG (Ret.) Patrick Brady, a legend in the aeromedevac community, an O’Dea High School and Seattle University alum, and Medal of Honor recipient. Both Mr. Slatt and MG(Ret.) Brady’s mentorship and advice helped me towards earning an Army ROTC scholarship.
College is where Memorial Day began to mean a bit more, but not nearly to the extent it would later in life. School was released by Memorial Day at Gonzaga so I was typically back in Seattle by that weekend. I graduated in mid-May.
By the time the next Memorial Day came around I had just returned from the National Training Center.
Four months later our country was attacked. Memorial Day over the next several years would take on entirely new meaning.
In 2002 Memorial Day was the weekend we recovered our vehicles from Pinon Canyon and prepared them for rail to the Joint Readiness Training Center. The drums of war were beginning to rumble and we were in full preparation mode.
In 2003 I found myself in Habbaniyah, Iraq on Memorial Day. It marked the two month mark for us from home. It is in Habbaniyah and Al Anbar Province over the course of that year that the meaning of Memorial Day took on a permanent significance. Memorial Day now had a face to it; Jesse Givens. PFC Jesse Givens was a tank driver in our tank company and was killed on May 1st. As a Regiment Memorial Day 2003 started out rough; our Regimental Support Operations Officer, MAJ Mathew Schram, was killed that morning.
Over the year more names and faces would apply. The day after Memorial Day our squadron lost SSG Michael Quinn and SGT Thomas Broomhead outside Fallujah. Then Josh Byers, Fox 6 and my commander, in July. Then over the next few years too many more. Darius Jennings. Ty Chisolm. Jacob Simpson. Paul Voelke. Kevin Griffin. George Stanciel. Joe Knott. Dennis Hay. Mike Martinez. Doug La Bouff. Joe deMoors. Jeffrey Williams. Laura Walker. Quite honestly too many to fully list.
Memorial Day has become the weekend I tell my kids about my heroes and the meaning of the ultimate sacrifice. I am thankful that such wonderful human beings walked among us but for a brief period of time. We stand on the shoulders of giants because of their sacrifice.
Because this isn’t just the weekend we open the pools, get to sleep in a bit longer, or get discounts at fast food joints. Monday isn’t the day the mail doesn’t come, the trash doesn’t get picked up, or the buses run on a funny schedule. This is the weekend we pause to honor those heroic and selfless souls who paid the price for freedom with their nerves, blood, talents, courage, and lives.
See more on leadership at https://medium.com/@leadershipbarn