This year we decided to begin a new annual Memorial Day tradition. We joined Danny's parents and headed over to the Riverside National Cemetery (the 3rd largest National Cemetery in the U.S.) for their Memorial Day services. Let me tell you, it was something I am glad to have done, and look forward to next year.
The Riverside National Cemetery is the final resting place of 180,000+ service members who have lived and died for their country. We arrived at 9:30am (the newspaper said the service started at 10:30...though it actually didn't start until 11:30), and got our seat just before the approximately 6,000-7,000 motorcycle riders arrived. As they arrived, the collective rumbling of the Harley's combined with the large American (and MIA/POW / Military) flags couldn't help but make an impression. It was quite a sight.
Since we had 2 hours to wait until the beginning of the festivities, Christian needed to do a lot of running around. I took him on lots of walks, and we together we read a lot of grave markers. We read the names of many servicemen who fought in WWII, Vietnam, and a few from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a sobering sight: my toddler touching the grave marker of someone who had given the ultimate sacrifice for his (and all of our) freedom.
When the service began, a C-17 (HUGE Airplane) did a low flyover just as the Chaplain closed a prayer. It was amazing, though something so grand paled in comparison to the subsequent playing of the "Star-Spangled Banner", by the Marine Corps brass. As the Color-Guard presented the flag, the "Star-Spangled Banner" filled the air. Now, at sports and countless other events that I've been to in the past, I've always been disgusted at the lack of respect our flag is given when this song is played. People generally talk, laugh, talk on the phone, some even sit in protest. However, on this day, at this Memorial Service, silence and reverence prevailed. The moment the flag was in sight, every single person stood to their feet with their hand either on their heart or in an honored salute. You could have heard a pin drop among the thousands of people in attendance. The song played, and suddenly the entire crowd erupted in the most beautiful chorus of "Star-Spangled Banner" I have ever heard. I couldn't help but cry.
The rest of the service was overflowing with amazing stories of valor and heroic acts. Generals and even a Colonel were in attendance. It all was ended with a rifle and cannon salute (scared Christian slightly), "Taps", and a multi-bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace.
As we pulled up to our house to host a BBQ for my in-laws, I couldn't help but find my heart swelled with pride at the sight of our American flag flying proudly on our house. I am so proud of my little brother, serving our country in Iraq. I am so proud of my grandfather, who was a sailor in the Navy prior to meeting my grandmother. I am so proud to be an American. This truly is a great land.
If you didn't take time to remember those who came before you to make Memorial Day possible, it isn't too late. Don't let their sacrifice be in vain. Keep in mind that you would very likely not be able to do much that you do on a daily basis if they hadn't lived and died for you.