Growing up I remember Memorial Day being a day of cookouts, watermelon, parades, horses, a day off from school, swimming, boats, and patriotic shirts.
After many life experiences, today is not a day of celebration for me anymore. Today is a day to remember those who have been lost. Today is a day to remember the families left behind. They sacrificed too. They deserve honor as much as the ones who fought and died.
I have been an Air Force wife for almost nine years now. In those nine years, I have gained an appreciation for our country that I never knew before sharing my life with one who lives his everyday to defend it. What does it mean to be an American? It's so much more than most people understand.
Wes was a post 9/11 troop. We were in college during 9/11. I was on my way to my Anatomy and Physiology lab when the first plane hit. We lived in Atlanta, Georgia. What does it feel like when your country is under attack when you are only 19 years old? I had never known war. My grandfathers served in the military during times of war, but that was just something out of a history book to me. I was in elementary school during the Persian Gulf War. War meant you wore a bracelet with the name of a soldier overseas fighting and you prayed for his safe return home. I did not know what it was like to be a wife. I did not know what it meant to have a daddy overseas. War was just something in the news.
9/11 put a different face on war for me. All of a sudden flags went up everywhere. Country artists wrote songs about patriotism. People joined together and helped each other out. Our nation became united. We were one.
Wes joined the Air Force less than a year after 9/11. He had already been thinking about joining the military, but 9/11 sped up the process. He previously wanted to join the Marines. After weighing his options, he decided to go with the Air Force. I was behind him with whatever decision he made. I was a proud military wife before I had ever become one.
We married in August, 2002 while Wes was in training in Texas. I bought books on how to be an Air Force Wife. I had a manual on the customs of the military and my role as a military spouse. I took my new role in life seriously. My job was to support the man who gave his heart to me, yet dedicated his life to protecting our country.
One of my favorite shirts while we were engaged. I remember wearing this shirt with pride on July 4th, 2002. I worked on-call as a Nurse Tech in the Emergency Department at Gwinnett Medical Center while I was in school. I was called into work that evening. I was not going to allow me being at work stop me from celebrating the freedom we had and the man in my life who now defended it.
When Wes joined the Air Force, war began to take on a new meaning to me. All the news reports of men and women dying in Afghanastan felt very personal to me. That could be my husband one day. I could be the spouse receiving the folded flag that once draped my husband's coffin. That could be my life.
We received orders to Fairchild AFB, Washington in October, 2002. We loved it there. It was the best first duty station we could have received. I learned to value every minute I had with Wes. Wes deployed five times while stationed at Fairchild. He took numerous TDY trips. He was awarded numerous awards for his service. I was a proud Air Force Wife.
Life was all about Patriotism. The dog had an Americana collar. I made posters for every deployment homecoming. Red, white, and blue streamers decorated the house. The dogs wore red, white, and blue bows around their necks. My days were spent shipping care packages, volunteering with the squadron, and attending military events. Pride for our country and a deep love for my husband who served to protect it grew with every day.
When Wes received orders to Andrews AFB, my patriotism grew even more. We were going to the Nation's Capital. We were going to live in the place where it all begins. I began to see a bigger picture of war. I became increasingly interested in politics. We jumped on every opportunity to do everything patriotic that came our way. We watched the president speak. We went to the White House. We visited every memorial. I soaked up the history around us. I gained a greater understanding and appreciation of what it meant to live in America.
These things did not impact me as much as the people I have met. I have friends who are military widows. I am surrounded by people who lived through the 9/11 attack.
What does that mean to me? It means to me that everyday is a gift. It means that we should cherish every moment because we just don't know when it will be our last. It means that war is more than what is on the television. Politics are more than what you hear on the news. War and politics are real world stuff. Lives are affected by both of these things. Lives end and survivors are left to live the rest of their days in a forever changed world.
Memorial Day is not about barbeques, cookouts, beer, parades, and swimming. Memorial Day is a day to remember the fallen. Memorial Day is a day to remember the forever changed lives they left behind. Memorial Day is a day to hug a military widow and tell her what it means to you that not only her husband gave his life, but she had to change her's so that we may be free. Memorial Day is a day to shed tears and take a moment of silence to thank God for our differences; to thank God that we live in a country where we are allowed the freedom to be unique. Memorial Day is a day to hug my husband and value what he means to me. It is a day to thank God that he is still in my life.