I have a picture of my grandpa standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. The date is November, 1944. He's dressed handsomely in an Army uniform, a cigarette between his fingers and the sly grin of a 19 year old on his face.
He's never revealed what he did during World War II. When anyone asks what he saw, where he fought or what he did, he turns the answer into some kind of joke. The usual response is, "I delivered candy to the guys on the front line."
No one probes because within the sarcastic response is the unspoken answer, "Don't ask me to explain. Don't ask me to live that again." So no one asks, we only wonder.
This is the unspoken part of Memorial Day. We celebrate our heroes, our soldiers, their service, their sacrifice and their death. We gladly proclaim gratitude for the past, present and future freedom.
What we don't thank them for is what we don't see. The silence they resume upon return from war is the silent protection of our innocence. They live with memories, sights and sounds that would cripple most of us. And they live it. And live it again.
They unassumingly slip back into the life they left, before they bore the nightmare for us. We sense they are not the same people they were before they left. But we both pretend they are.
Even in the face of opposition and protest, few talk. Few give details. There seems to be an unspoken rule that not only are they supposed to do the fighting on our behalf, they also keep the fight to themselves. As if the fight itself is too much, which it is.
On Memorial Day we celebrate and commemorate lives lost. Entwined in the celebration are the soldiers still living who have spiritually and emotionally died a thousand deaths. Yet, they still guard us from the horrors that haunt them day and night. Their selflessness is not restricted to a time period or geographical border.
While we thank those who have bravely fought for us and now rest in peace, we need to remember those who have fought for us and just need to rest. Sometimes I sense an attitude that says, tomorrow, when you are buried, we will thank you properly for your sacrifice.
Today is the day.
To all the present day heroes-
Thank you-for allowing my family to celebrate Memorial Day, as if it's just another day off work and school.
Your bravery, sacrifice and silence have not gone unnoticed.
*reprinted from May, 2007