Thankful for those who served

By Debra Whittington

“For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons” Deuteronomy 4:7-9

Mark and I walked through the cemetery placing flowers on the graves of family members, some long gone. There are several family members we never knew personally, only about them from stories passed down through the generations.

As we walked along, we stopped and paused at several graves of people we knew over the years. Some of them had flowers placed on them while others remained bare because family members moved away long ago. Each headstone represented an individual life, once mourned by loved loves.

We laughed as we stood at his mother’s headstone and remembered how she came home one day and told us she had bought each of us a cemetery plot.  We discussed buying our headstone and placing it on our plot before we pass away. Once both of us are gone, there probably wouldn’t be anyone to take care of it for us.

I know of several graves in the cemetery without a headstone. I once did a research project for a family living in Florida to locate the grave of an aunt who died almost 90 years ago.

They had a small metal marker for her at the time, but after all those years it was gone and there was nothing tangible to remember her final resting place.
Hugh Robert Orr wrote a poem entitled, “They Softly Walk”. One of the lines so often quoted reads, “To live in the hearts of those you leave behind is never to die”.   There are so many of my family members who are now in heaven, but they will live in my heart forever. Mark and I keep their memory alive by remembering them and talking about the impact they made on our lives.

While Memorial Day became a holiday observed on the fourth Monday in May in 1971, traditional Memorial Day remains on May 30. It began in 1868 to pay respect to all of the soldiers both Union and Confederate, who gave their lives in the Civil War. While on opposing sides, these soldiers believed in their cause and sacrificed their lives for their beliefs. Survivors of the war placed their feelings of malice aside and started the healing process for the nation.

In following years, families observed the price paid for their freedom and extended the observance to remember loved ones who had died. They gathered at cemeteries to place flowers on graves and reflect on the lives of those who were gone.  It was a family day and they even brought picnic lunches with them as they spent the day at the cemetery. 

On Monday, the president placed a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier representing all of the soldiers who lie buried throughout the world and unknown to all except God. Throughout the country, services honored the memory of those who paid the ultimate price for freedom, their very lives.
In our own cemetery were flags by the graves of veterans who served their country. I wish to thank those who took the time to place all of those flags and thus honoring those who served their country. It served as a reminder of so many who willingly served to keep our country free.
Our country is at war and soldiers are dying every day in Iraq. Despite our politics and whether or not we agree with the war we need to remember those who die for their country and honor their memory. It is important for us to remember why Memorial Day began and to teach children about the holiday and the sacrifice freely given. We also need to teach them about loved ones who were gone long before they were born.

I give thanks for Mark’s mom and grandmother who took me under their wing as a young bride and took me to the cemetery on Memorial Day. I am thankful for the stories they related about their loved ones so I now feel close to them even though I never met them. I am thankful that I can continue our tradition and will always remember why Memorial Day is observed.