It’s a pleasant 73 degrees on this early South Florida morning and the outlook for the day is rest and relaxation. The most difficult thing I might do today is “man the grill” as friends and family gather to celebrate the holiday, listen to music, play some games, catch up on life, and eat some good food.
Memorial Day means many things to many people. It marks the unofficial start of Summer as many schools are out and graduations have concluded. It’s a day off from work, possibly catching up on yard work or a project on the honey-do list you've been meaning to complete. For some it’s a day at the park for youth sports as baseball and soccer seasons are in full swing, while others trek to to beach to begin the process of perfecting the summer tan.
As a child, I remember picnics in the backyard after some sprucing up of the grounds and furniture. The grass would be hastily cut and the wooden picnic table and benches would get a fresh coat of redwood stain. Weeds between the patio blocks would be pulled and the garden hose employed to make our dining area presentable. I can still remember the first dip in the pool after sweating like a popsicle in an oven while completing the chores of the day before getting to relax and have fun.
The flag would be proudly displayed on the front porch and red, white, and blue would be seen around the neighborhood as the masses congregate to commence the festivities.
The menu would be burgers and dogs, potato salad, macaroni salad, deviled eggs, iced tea, and watermelon. If crabs happened to be plentiful early in the season, we might luck out and have steamed crabs covered with Old Bay seasoning, fresh out of the Chesapeake Bay. Dad might even break out the homemade ice cream maker for an early evening treat.
There would be a game of horseshoes on the side of the house or croquet on the freshly cut field of lush green tall fescue. It would be a day to remember as this little boy celebrated and partied 'til the cows came home.
As a ten-year-old, the true meaning of the day didn’t occur to me. I was caught up I the process of squeezing the most fun out of the day that I could. In reality, by Memorial Day 1970, the Vietnam War had peaked, and more than 50,000 US soldiers had lost their lives. All the while I was oblivious to the turmoil in our country and around the world.
Thinking back, I realize there were probably families in my community that had already lost a loved one to the war or were praying for their safe return, while others were saying goodbye to those whose number had been called through the draft.
Over a decade earlier, the Korean War had claimed 36,516 Americans while World War II saw 405,399 soldiers not make it home. In World War I, 116,516 lives were lost.
By the time I had reached the age of double-digits, two-thirds of the way through the century, over 600,000 lives had been taken due to war.
And I didn’t have a care in the world.
Why? Because several million Americans before me had answered the call to go and fight to preserve the freedom I took for granted. I was free to go to school and gain an education, worship at my local church, own, and read, my very own Bible, and grow up in a land where life was grand and everyone around me was loving life, experiencing joy and prosperity.
Some paid the ultimate sacrifice. There were young men, or boys, that boarded a plane or ship knowing full well they may never make it back. Some volunteered, while others answered the call to report for duty. Those soldiers knew one, vitally important, thing – freedom wasn’t free.
Today, I’ll be in the pool. I’ll set up the corn hole boards and break out the cooler to fill with ice and adult beverages. I’ll throw some burgers and dogs on the grill and try not to burn myself as I cook for the masses. And today, I will celebrate my freedom by pausing to reflect on the Americans that stood up and gave it all, so I might enjoy this thing called life.
I hope you do the same.
Major Donald Emerson Shay, Jr., USAF
March 16, 1946 – October 8, 1970
Today, I remember Maj. Donald E. Shay, Jr. USAF, who went missing in action on October 8, 1970, while flying a reconnaissance mission over Laos. Major Shay was a resident of my home town, Linthicum, Maryland.
Thank you, Major Shay, for proudly serving your country and making the ultimate sacrifice for me and my family. May God have you cradled in His loving arms for Eternity.