Where were you this Memorial Day?

The American Legion Henry Barry Post #4 along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Louie E. Higdon Post #1704 assembled in Miami’s Veterans Memorial Park at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day Monday to remember and honor those souls who put on the uniform of the United States of America and died wearing it.  The park was littered with onlookers, many of whom once wore the uniform themselves; those fortunate enough to return home. But too few attended this year, mostly those who never had to wear the uniform, who never had to face the ugliness of war and combat, who enjoy the benefits given by those who have.

Did you light the barbecue this year for Memorial Day? Did you go to the lake or mountains? Did you stay home and catch the latest on Netflix? Where were you at 11 o’clock on Memorial Day Monday? American Legion Riders President Shon Bywater conducted the ceremony which culminated with a twenty-one gun salute by the VFW honor guard and the playing of Taps. To finalize the program, a recording was played of a retired Navy Seal, “Jocko” Willink, called “The Heaviest Flag,” describing his part in the funeral of one of his fallen comrades.

“The leader of the honor guard, a second class petty officer, grasps the flag into his hand. He moves it forward into my hands. I clench it. The flag is heavy in my hands with pain and grief. I feel the weight, a weight I can barely support as it tears at my soul. I take six steps forward. I clench my jaw in order to get some control over my emotions before she sees my face.

“I am in front of her now. I take two steps forward. She whispers a quiet moan of anguish. It is the loudest noise I have ever heard. I stop in front of her still looking straight ahead. I bend down onto one knee. I look at her. Her heart is broken. Tears are trickling down her face, and yet she smiles at me, as if to say, ‘It’s okay.’

“I feel my emotions start to rush to the surface. I want to break down. I want to cry, but there is procedure to follow and I am a military man, and I know to follow procedure. I then say the words, ‘On behalf of the president of the United States, the United States Navy, and a Grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation of your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.’ I place the full weight of that flag with all its agony and torment into her hands.

“The guns were fired, the bugle played its solemn notes, then my friend was buried in that sacred place with many of my other friends, our brothers in arms now together again. And, above it all, soaring in the sky was our flag, Old Glory, bearing upon it the weight of a million souls who gave their lives for it. Bearing upon it the burden and anguish of mothers and fathers who gave their precious children for it and yet it flies. It flies carried aloft by freedom and by the precious memories of those who sacrificed everything to give us that freedom.

“Please. Please remember what that flag represents and why it flies.”

What does that flag represent? We say it represents the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. But it is more than that. It represents the weight of pain and anguish carried by every mother, father, son, and daughter, who laid down a piece of their life in this sacred soil so we can continue to enjoy our way of life. Those of us who returned and those of us who remained behind, we owe one hour of our lives on Memorial Day at 11 o’clock in Veterans Memorial Park to tell these mothers that we remember the life they gave for us.

Thank you to the American Legion, VFW, Town of Miami, and all of the patriotic volunteers who helped with the ceremony and the luncheon that followed. To the people of Globe-Miami, I hope to see you on Independence Day and Veterans Day to follow. We must never forget.