Greg Allen: What did Memorial Day mean to you?

Greg Allen

To be frank, I never used to give Memorial Day much thought. Like many, I thought it meant a paid day off, burgers on the grill, a parade or maybe something like the trifecta of motorsports for a day - the Grand Prix of Monaco in the morning, the Indy 500 at noon and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 at night. My thoughts had no doubt been flawed, for it’s none of the above.

The day in reality should typify gratitude and tribute in the form of honor, respect and admiration for courage, and praise for all who have protected us.

My wife and I rose early Memorial Day to pick up my mom for a visit to the graveyard. We’ve been decorating the graves of our relatives on that particular day for some time now. They rest in a small country cemetery a few miles from us.

I drove that day and went past another cemetery on the way. At the entrance of that cemetery were hundreds of American flags - all I could say was, “Wow!” as I drove by.

When we got to the cemetery where our loved ones are, I noticed an older couple doing the same thing we were planning. As we drove past I nodded at the gentleman as a sign of respect and he in turn nodded at me. (It struck me afterward how few honor sacrifice.)

I have two uncles buried there who served in the Army. I noticed someone had placed small American flags beside both their tombstones, as they did for all the veterans in that cemetery. I can only assume it was the American Legion or VFW, and I respect that.

As we drove down the lane, my mom said her hairdresser refuses to visit cemeteries because it’s her opinion the people aren't there. My wife soon chimed in to say, ”Their bones are!” That thought kept rolling around in my mind even after we left that hallowed place. Their souls are elsewhere, but their bones remain.

On the way home I recalled the time I paid a visit to the cemetery in Luxenberg where General George Patton's buried. His grave’s at the front of the cemetery and thousands of other white crosses form a horseshoe around his. He wanted to be buried with his men.

I remembered the time we were at Gettysburg, standing on the knoll facing where Picket’s Charge occurred. Some 10 men deep, Confederate soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, a mile across, marched toward their fate and that knoll where we stood.

How could I forget that time we were in Washington, D.C., standing in front of “The Wall,” the Vietnam War Memorial. All those names etched in granite, all the things people had laid at the base in tribute. That older gentleman kneeling in front of a name he no doubt knew. I remember the tears welling within me as I watched him sob uncontrollably.

I soon began reminiscing about my friend Henry. He was a black man from Mississippi, a good old boy who used to call me “Mr. Craig.” I liked the sound of it so much I never corrected him on it. Henry won two purple hearts in World War II, one for shrapnel in his legs and the other for the loss of a thumb in a firefight with a German. I recalled how he cried when he told his story of seeing his cousin in a French town the Allies were liberating. The two were walking through the city talking to each other when a shell exploded in front of them. Henry was thrown several feet and left temporarily unconscious. When he awoke Henry found nothing left of his cousin. He said the nightmare of that day never left him.

I remembered the stories my aunt told about my uncle making it only a few yards up Omaha Beach on D-Day before being killed.

I recalled the ordeal my cousin went through in Vietnam when he was ordered to annihilate everything in a village, yet he was convicted for it and spent time in Fort Leavenworth before being pardoned by the President some five years later. It's a scarred life that won't mend.

My wife and I served in the Air Force, my brother in the Army, but none of us saw battle. We were the lucky ones, for I've interviewed veterans and heard their stories. I've never had to hunker down in a foxhole for fear of my life. I've never been shot at or had to shoot anyone. I've never had to experience explosions rattling the landscape all about me. I've never had to see my buddies destroyed or experienced the horror of war either.

That verse “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” began to stir my mind. (John 15:13)

I daresay I’ll never view Memorial Day the same.

Greg Allen’s column is published bi-monthly. He’s a published author, syndicated columnist, songwriter and the founder of Builder of the Spirit Ministries in Jamestown, Ind., a nonprofit organization aiding the less fortunate. He can be reached at 765-676-5014 or www.builderofthespirit.org.