Written by: Amy Franz
Ahhh, the end of May! What a joyous time! School is over. Summer weather has arrived. Days at the park and warm evenings are heralded by Memorial Day weekend. Picnics and pool parties dressed up in red, white, and blue.
As a child, my Memorial Day weekends included all this and a trip to the Leavenworth National Cemetery. The hour drive was like traveling back in time. We’d drive past the ranch that had bison out to pasture on the prairie. Bumping along brick roads in Leavenworth with its historic downtown buildings from a bygone era.
Just outside of town is the cemetery. I do not ever remember being afraid of this vast place, I only remember feeling a soft sadness. The grounds were peaceful. Expanses of freshly mowed grass, white headstones in neat rows gleaming in the sun, marked with small flags fluttering for every one of the fallen. My dad drove slowly through, pausing here and there as my mom quietly named each of the wars: the World Wars, Viet Nam, the Civil War, and a specially designated section for the renowned Buffalo Soldiers in the oldest part of the cemetery. We were quiet and reverent in the car, looking at so many graves they seemed to be uncountable. How could there be that many soldiers, mostly men, buried here? This is what history looks like. History that demands dignity and respect.
Leaving the cemetery, we drove past the Veterans Home. Men sat out on the lawn, each one alone. I didn’t understand their aloneness. Dad said that for some, the war stays even though it has ended. This was a place to help with all the different kinds of healing. We’d travel on to the military base, which was completely open to the public back then. The historic homes of officers were decorated with red, white, and blue bunting hanging from windows and porch railings. Here there was not only history but the present; men and women in uniform attending their duties even on the weekend.
Now, so many decades later, Memorial Day is so much more personal. As the wife of a Navy veteran with 20 years of service, I know the fallen. My husband and I remember where we were when we heard the news of each one. Those he served with, whose families we barbequed with. Our hearts break again each Memorial Day. For a long moment, we are quiet, feeling what was lost not just to us.
In the year 2000, Congress passed a law for a National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day to pause for a duration of one minute to remember those who have died in military service to the United States. It was passed in the hopes that Memorial Day would be remembered for more than “the day the pool opens.”
This year will you pause for that moment? A prayer could be offered, a minute of silence held for reflection, a hymn sung, or a poem or Scripture read. Then, yes, we can return to families and fun. Yes, to making new memories and feeling the warm sun on your face. Yes, to enjoying the extra freedoms summer brings!