I thought after the first time, it would get easier. The bugle playing taps. The empty boots and unworn dog tags. And the final roll call — a ceremony in which someone, often a senior noncommissioned officer, calls roll. Instead of the usual answer, "Yes, first sergeant!" there is simply silence. That fallen soldier will never answer roll again.
I've been to just three military memorial services, two for soldiers we lost in combat. And the final roll call is what nearly breaks me down each time.
This is what crosses my mind when Memorial Day comes around. Last year was the first in a long time that I didn't attend a parade or other event honoring our service members. To me, even the parades have a solemn feel, watching hundreds of service members march by with precise movements knowing that they could be in Afghanistan in just a few short months, many of them who haven't even been out of high school more than a year. Even now, it's difficult for me to associate Memorial Day with fun activities.
How's that for a downer?
Now that my husband is in the Army Reserves, I'm no longer in that tight-knit community of spouses who all know what the other is going through. My older son knows that from time to time, Daddy has to "go be a soldier." But what can I teach him about this day of remembrance that underscores its importance while also stressing the equal importance of spending time with family?
The answer is, "I don't know." But I think my take on it is my problem, not his or anyone else's.
This year, instead of holing up in the house like some kind of Army wife martyr, I think I will go out of my way to create a new tradition for my family. Something that marries my love for country with an extra day for us to spend together without having to go to work.
My city, like many across the country, offers events that honor our fallen service members, as well as some that are meant to foster family time.
I'm thinking we will start the day by attending an observance. That's when I can explain to my son that sometimes moms and dads have to be soldiers, or Marines, or airmen. And sometimes, the bad guys hurt them. And today, Memorial Day, is our chance to think about them. Then we will take advantage of the time we have together by attending a family event like a baseball game or one of the other many events aimed at honoring our fallen.
We will also display our Memorial Day crafts, making a special one to save for Daddy when he gets back home from "being a soldier."
And we'll make one more for that service member who wasn't there to answer his final roll call.
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