As a veteran, Memorial Day is particularly meaningful — the day I remember those friends and comrades who remain frozen in time as young men in their 20s. I have aged; they have not.

It wasn’t always that way for me. The war of my generation, Vietnam, was a difficult time in our nation’s history. It left many of us who served in the military disillusioned and bitter. Our service was not so readily honored by our peers.

Like most Americans, I typically celebrated Memorial Day by finishing some home improvement project over the long weekend, and then charring a few burgers and brats on the grill.

That changed a few years ago.

I was at Home Depot, and a young woman cashier was ringing up the supplies for my latest project. I noticed a stylized date tattooed on her forearm, and absently asked if it commemorated a child’s birth. She quietly said, “No Children. That was the day I lost my soldier.” She told me how proud she was of him, but that after five years, it was sometimes hard.

That brief encounter brought home the true meaning of military service for each generation. It is not some philosophical abstraction to be cheaply debated among pundits untouched by the human cost of personal sacrifice.

Many people serve our country in many ways, but it is different when you put on a military uniform. That kind of service has a personal impact, forever inked onto real lives.

Memorial Day is not only about honoring the memory of all those we have lost in all those wars.

It is also about, perhaps mostly about, that young woman.

That young widow.

Memorial Day is also about those of us who remain.

 

John Gunyou lives in Minnetonka, and is an Air Force veteran.