Taking advantage of one of Memorial Day weekend’s ubiquitous, food-themed specials, I was standing in line at Domino’s Pizza Sunday night, picking up a couple of pies. An old-timer festooned with his Korean War Veteran cap and a military award or two was seated behind me, his hands draped over his walking stick, silently waiting for his order.
I’d immediately noticed him when I entered the store and so, as soon as I was able, I turned and thanked him enthusiastically for his service. I startled him slightly, I think, although he seemed pleased, visibly brightening someone had bothered to acknowledge him.
I patted him on the shoulder and specified something like, “I’m glad we’re not having to commemorate you tomorrow.” I’m not altogether sure he caught my drift, but I hope so. Fact is, there are well over one-million individual Americans who never survived their respective military experiences, volunteering the ultimate sacrifice for their country and countrymen. These multitudes were never able to enter into their senescence receiving personal expressions of gratitude for their defense of our freedoms, their buttressing of our safety, their reinforcement of America’s way of life.
As I was heading out the door, dinner in hand, this gray and wizened veteran thanked me for thanking him. Maybe such encounters don’t happen his way as much as they ought? Imagine that: thanking me for thanking him for what he did for me and other strangers unnumbered; most of whom he’ll never even meet. Classy — and likely what we can expect from many a man or woman who, putting aside comfort and convenience and preference, supplied something indispensable for any nation aiming at survival.
That said, more than appreciating the living who served, Memorial Day is intended a summons to pause and honor those who are no longer living because they served. No more marriages or children or grandchildren; no more Christmas holidays with loved ones or summer picnics with family; no future business opportunities or hobbies pursued, talents developed, dreams fulfilled — because they went into harm’s way for people who too often wander past their surviving colleagues without giving them even a second thought, never-mind contemplating the incalculable loss of those invisible casualties who should be much in our minds and hearts every last Monday of May.
Should be in our minds and hearts …
The most significant element of my Memorial Day eve’s trip to Dominos certainly wasn’t the dinner I collected. It was, rather, that elderly man I briefly met whose quiet presence reminded me of countless others, now gone, whom I pray would be the purposeful focus of multitudes, from sea to shining sea, the very next day.
photo credit: U.S. Army Korea (Historical Image Archive) Korean War Memorial, Washington D.C., USA, February 2009 via photopin (license)