What are we supposed to remember?

Graves_at_Arlington_on_Memorial_DayWhen you look back on your family history, your own personal history and, perchance, your involvement or recollection of mankind’s events later deemed to be historical, what do you remember? More importantly, what are you sharing with young people, be they family or not, so that they know what they’re supposed to remember?

I’ve been thinking about memories and life events a lot lately, no doubt because of several that have happened to me. My eldest daughter recently turned 18, is about to graduate high school and will be a college student sooner than I will be able to comprehend. I got a notice the other day (on Facebook of all places), that reminded me 2015 is the year of my 30th high school class reunion. I had to nod and laugh when a classmate posted, “Wait, don’t we have 15 years until this happens?”

And today is Memorial Day — a holiday designed for us to remember those who have served and sacrificed in our name as the protectors of life and defenders of freedom.

I recently started keeping a list of things that kids today won’t understand as time passes and references made by my generation will lose their historical and sometimes humorous meaning.

I was originally going to write a post looking at how life has evolved so rapidly in the past 30 years, and how the next generation or two are more likely to take modern conveniences for granted even more than my generation has.

I’ll hit on that list in an upcoming blog post, but today isn’t about remembering things to laugh about. Today is about remembering those killed in action while serving their military, serving their country, and — whether you agreed with the cause or not — serving you.

imdb memorial dayI watched the movie Memorial Day (again) last night because my wife hadn’t seen it yet and it seemed apropos to see on Memorial Day Weekend. It wasn’t a high-action summer blockbuster so you may not have heard about it, but it’s a well-done tale of two soldiers, one who serves in Iraq in the mid-2000s, as well as his grandfather, who served in WWII. It’s not a war movie so much as it is about the memories of war and sharing them (or not) with family.

Without giving any spoilers not already available from the movie’s summary paragraph, a key moment occurs early in the film in a conversation between the WWII vet and his grandson when the boy asks about the war. Initially, the grandfather is extremely reluctant to share any tales, but then this exchange occurs:

Grandson: “It’s Memorial Day.”

Grandpa: “You’re damn straight it is.”

Grandson: “What am I supposed to remember?”

That’s what gets the grandfather talking — the realization that people don’t know what they’re supposed to remember if generations don’t pass on stories and information about a time that was and will never be again. We must never forget why we celebrate Memorial Day, which is to honor those who died while serving in the military. Do not confuse it with Veterans Day or, as has become more commonplace unfortunately, as the official start of summer vacation season. Please lower your flags to half-staff, because that’s more important than lowering the cover of your grill for your backyard feast. Because Memorial Day is different from other flag holidays, you also need to raise the flag at noon, which is more important than raising a beer to celebrate summer.

It’s Memorial Day. Today is about remembering those who have given the last sacrifice, who deserve to have a tear shed for them and their families, and who have earned our greatest measure of respect.

May they all rest in peace.

(Photos courtesy of IMBD and Wikipedia.)



Flying a flag is my daily memorial

Jeff Wortley

Memorial Day is approaching in the United States. It’s a three-day weekend filled with trips up north, picnics, parades and, sometimes, people remembering the point of the day in the first place. Unfortunately, not enough people remember the sacrifices made by those whose lives we celebrate on Memorial Day — nor do they take the time to remember those folks every day. That’s why I’ve made a point lately of flying  a U.S. flag at my house as my daily memorial to people more dedicated, more courageous and more deserving of respect than many others.

The concept of a Memorial Day began after the U.S. Civil War ended, picked up steam after WWII and then became an official federal holiday in 1967. The idea was to hold a memorial for those who had died in battle. I see it evolving now, however, as a day to remember those who gave their lives and to thank those who gave a piece of their lives to defending the freedoms in the U.S. that we all take for granted too easily.

I try not to take those freedoms for granted, but I often fail. Still, I’m trying to be better about remembering and appreciating those who have served and fought on my behalf over the years. My father, who fled Czechoslovakia after Hitler’s troops invaded, ended up fighting for the British army in WWII. My uncle and aunt both served in the U.S. Navy during WWII. My brother-in-law Larry served in the U.S. Navy in the 1960s and my brother-in-law Jeff is an active member of the Michigan Air National Guard who has served a tour of duty in Iraq. And then there is Jason “Cliffy” Haag, a guy I met at a corporate communicators conference in Atlanta this past February.

Jason Haag

Jason is a Superintendent for public affairs for the 55th Air Wing of the U.S. Air Force. While at the conference, he was just another fun public relations guy that I and my wife, Jessi, hit it off with. We kept in touch on Twitter and Facebook after the conference and have been getting a glimpse of his life while he prepares for a tour of duty in Afghanistan – a yearlong tour for which he volunteered. There have been many poignant status updates about visiting with friends and family and enjoying events to their fullest before he ships out in July.

I wrote to Jason and asked him why he volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan, and why for a full year. He said the main reason was a feeling that he needed to do his part. As Jason explains:

I spent the last five years of my Air Force career in a training assignment at the U.S. Air Force Academy and did not have an opportunity to deploy. It was very frustrating to me as I was counseling and mentoring future leaders of our Air Force, but had not actually seen an operational deployment in years. To put it in perspective, one of my former commanders did a one-year tour in Korea and a one-year tour in Iraq, among other things, during my five years in comfortable Colorado Springs.

Jason recently returned to operational Air Force service, in a non-training environment, at which point he began researching deployment opportunities. According to Jason, the normal rotation in his career field is six months of deployment and six months at home. Mixed in are “365s,” which are one-year deployments that are often hard to fill. That’s what Jason has volunteered for. He said:

Since I had not deployed in so long, I felt I should really step up and take on one of these 365s. After all, many of my peers had been “covering” me while I was at the Academy. I also believe it is important that I, as a senior noncommissioned officer, set the example for the younger airmen in my charge.

Jason’s story inspired me to start thinking more about what I take for granted, how I haven’t really had to do that much to enjoy the freedoms I have every day, and to put into perspective a lot of the little crap that comes along in life but that doesn’t really matter that much in the grand scheme of things. As Jason said:

It is easy for me to sit behind my desk and talk to them about the realities of our career field (being deployed half of every year), but to not be out front in seeking out those opportunities is hypocritical.

Indeed — much like it’s hypocritical for U.S. citizens to wave the flag on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, or to stand at attention when the national anthem is played at sporting events, but then forget why we are doing that. Too often, I think we focus on our picnics and relaxation on the extra day off we get because of a holiday established to honor the men and women in uniform who put it all on the line. And we rarely remember the families left behind to keep the home fires burning until their loved ones return.

So for Jason “Cliffy” Haag, Kurt Adler, George Frankos, Beth Frankos, Larry Ivory, Jeff Wortley and the millions of soldiers who deserve our gratitude and our respect, this flag’s for you: