What Memorial Day Means to Me

At the ripe old age of 10, I declared to my parents that I was going to follow in my father's footsteps and serve in the military.

I certainly didn't understand completely — I was only 10. That same year 1967-1968, my father went to Vietnam and while I knew he was in a war zone — how do you comprehend that at age 10 living in a comfortable safe home and playing with your elementary school friends? I wanted to understand though so I listened to my Barry Sadler Ballad of the Green Berets album my dad gave me just before he left. I wore that record out and can still sing every word to every song to this day!

I’ve come to believe it's really hard to understand the sacrifices our service members experience until you actually experience it yourself.

My first 21 years of service on active duty in United States Army still didn't lend itself to really understand the full impact of the observance of Memorial Day.

That all changed for me while serving the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, losing dozens of close friends through the terrorist attacks.

That event coupled with 9 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007-2011, connecting with service members who lost their best friends, and attending numerous memorial services lent itself to a deep appreciation of my meaning for a Memorial Day observance. My defining “significant emotional event” deeply seated for me was the experience of attending a solemn ramp ceremony in Baghdad where a Soldier was given honors by his unit as his American Flag draped casket was loaded onto a C130 for his journey home to his family.

I then boarded that aircraft as it left Baghdad headed for Kuwait, then Germany and then to Washington DC for the Soldier's final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. As the C130 departed my husband and I were the only 2 passengers on this huge aircraft with an Air Force crew of 6 and one lone casket in the middle of the plane bearing the memory of the life of a Soldier.

Sitting only a few feet away from the Soldier I couldn't help but wonder how his family was feeling and wanted so much for them to know that he was not traveling alone. This was a 23-year-old Soldier who had sacrificed his life for our Nation. I talked to him most of that first leg of the trip.

That three-hour journey will forever remain in my soul and reverently speak to me on the significance of Memorial Day — honoring those who have served and given their lives for our country.

As I thought deeply about the young soldier we had the privilege to escort, the words of the song “Let Them In Peter” my husband recently recorded went through my mind. Much like the music of Barry Saddler which inspired me I found solace in these moving words…

"Let them in Peter, they are very tired, give them couches where the angles sleep, light those fires. 

Let them wake whole again to brand new dawns  fired by the sun not wartimes bloody guns. 

Give them things they like let them make some noise  give them dance hall bands not golden harps to these our boys. 

Let them love Peter  they have had no time  They should have trees and birds songs and hills to climb. 

Tell them how they are missed but not to fear  it’s going to be alright with us down here."

// Jill Chambers is a retired U.S. Army Colonel widely recognized as the first person in the history of the U.S. Military to develop a successful, sustainable strategy to reduce the crippling stigma associated with mental health challenges in a warrior culture. //

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