I was only eight years old when I first saw the effect of war. It was 1971, fifteen years after the start of a conflict that eventually escalated in Vietnam and became a hotbed of controversy in the U.S. More than fifty-seven-thousand Americans had died in the fighting thus far. Fathers, uncles and neighbors didn’t come home. Some were killed; others were held in horrid conditions as prisoners of war a world away in a place I had not yet heard of, but soon would.
That summer, my family moved to Virginia Beach, a military community, where my father started a job coaching an NHL farm team. On the first day of school on a hot September morning, I walked into my third grade classroom and paused just inside the doorway, unsure of myself as I took in the new faces of this new place. I noticed that many of my classmates wore copper or silver colored metal bracelets, each one with writing stamped into it. I didn’t know what they were, but eventually I would discover that every bracelet bore the name of a prisoner of war, a man who was important to the child wearing it. In some cases, the man on the bracelet was their daddy. I thought about that again and again, wondering what it must be like for them and what I would do if it was my own father. I Imagined their fear and longing and I hated how it made my heart ache.
This was how I discovered that kids just like me in families just like mine were being devastated by the horrors of war. This is how I learned the extreme sacrifice of being a soldier. And this is what I’m thinking about this long, Memorial Day weekend.
For those of you who serve this great country of ours and for those of you who love a soldier, I thank you. For those who have died fighting and for those who love them, I extend my heart to you, my prayers for you. I ache for your loss.
I hope every one of us will pause in the midst of swimming and cook outs and fun to talk about the reason for this long weekend and pay tribute to those who gave their lives, those who were never found, and those who feel the emptiness of loss. I hope we all know a debt of gratitude that makes us raise our hearts, raise our prayers and raise support for our troops and those who miss them most.
(Photo credit: Picstopin)