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"The True Meaning of Memorial Day"- By Paul Wilson

April 07 2023
Vintage USA flag.
THE TRUE MEANING OF MEMORIAL DAY By Paul H. Wilson, resident of The Fountains at Greenbriar, a Watermark community My father fought in World War II in the Pacific for four (4) long years. In the intense heat and foreign lands of Guam and its surrounding islands, Dad bravely followed orders that took him into harm’s way over and over for America's call. He was engaged at the time to my Mother, although only a few brief letters still survive.

While he never mentioned it, I only recently discovered he was highly rated as an Army Sharpshooter. He was a shy boy from a farm in Idaho and knew nothing of the world into which he was suddenly thrust. When he returned home to be married, those years remained tightly locked inside of him and he never spoke but a few words of them to his family or few friends. The first observance of Memorial Day, established as Decoration Day, took place on May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.. Soldiers from both the Union and Confederacy armies rested and together reflected on the terrible losses still vivid around them. Decoration Day would become Memorial Day, a day to honor and remember all who died fighting for freedom in any war, not just those who died in the Civil War,and was established as a federal holiday in 1971, moved to the last Monday in May and made part of a three-day weekend.

Memorial Day was intended to be a time to reflect and remember all those women and men who have lost their lives for our country. (Of note must be that Memorial Day is different than Veterans Day, which is a time to thank those who are serving or have served and are still with us.) Memorial Day was always special to my Dad for reasons never fully explained to us as family. Questions asked of him about the men he went to boot camp with and/or served with during those endless four years were most often answered with just a shake of the head, sometimes with a quick tear in the eye. In looking back, I see now that Dad spent time alone each Memorial Day for whatever personal reflection and tribute was his alone to pay for lost comrades and friends and he passed the true significance and power of this day by example to his family.

Memorial Day is not about picnics and ballgames. It is not about backyard barbecues, beach parties, and sales at our favorite stores. Memorial Day is a day to remember the men and women serving as brave soldiers, sailors, fliers and marines who died protecting their country and what they believed it stood for. They died defending a way of life that they felt was worth dying for … families, children, freedom, morality, values, responsibility, honor. They are real people. Each is a loved one of many. They are not a number, but a name and a relative and someone who cared enough to leave the ordinary to do the extra-ordinary and do a job foreign to them, but necessary so that those they loved might continue to enjoy the freedoms won at cost in times past. They were needed and they answered the call.

At The Fountains at Greenbriar and at Watermark communities nationwide, Memorial Day is a time to appreciate the heritage that our fallen soldiers have given each of us so that we might have the joy of a daily celebration of life. From the closed eyes of remembrance, we are able to open our eyes in freedom, independence and community.

We can stand proud and free today with others whose current joy is built on past loss. My father, a sharpshooter in an unnamed jungle years ago, knew first-hand of so many who gave their life so you and I can celebrate life, freedom and community today. Let us pay proper tribute that we can enjoy the freedoms we do today on this Memorial Day. Paul H. Wilson is a resident of The Fountains at Greenbriar, a Watermark community, located in Independence, Missouri.

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