What Memorial Day Means For Those Of Us Who Made It Home

what memorial day means to me
Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Memorial Day is generally the kick-off of summer trips to the beach, road trips to state parks, and backyard barbeques with friends while sizzling under the warm sun.

It’s also often when social media is filled with veterans posting the differences between Armed Forces Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day. Followed up by profile pictures changing to ones in uniform or the iconic battlefield cross.

My family isn’t much different. This Friday afternoon, we will head out to go on a little Memorial Day weekend trip. We won’t be going to the beach. Still, we will be visiting historical locations in the country and paying homage to friends we left behind.


Two Veterans, Countless Friends

My husband and I are both military veterans. My husband served 17 years in the Air Force, and I retired after 20. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I absolutely love my retirement. 

I no longer sport my conservative brown bob haircut with conservative makeup. Instead, I rock a bright red mohawk. I often don’t wear any makeup, much to my mother’s chagrin, or I wear very colorful makeup.

You give up a lot when you raise your right hand and swear to protect and defend. I served under four Presidents; two Republicans and two Democrats. I deployed numerous times, traveled all over this country and world, and did so willingly without public complaint. 


While I thoroughly relish my freedom to openly critique my government on this medium, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of my brothers and sisters in arms who never did make it home.

The Best Gift Of All

The military is a hard business. It’s really not for everybody. There is a lot about serving that is just absolutely terrible. This terribleness varies in degrees. But there are a lot of great things that come from the military.

I was blessed to travel the world, learn a skill or two, gain some grit and resilience, and get my higher education through my Master’s Degree for free. Although, I’d argue I paid for that education, just perhaps not in a traditional sense.

However, the best gift the military gives you isn’t any of those things; it’s family.

As a senior leader, I used to tell my young Airmen that when they wear the uniform, they represent two families… the one they were born into and the one they joined. Since the uniform displays your last name and branch of service, I always felt it had a nice poetic flair.

No Different Than Most Families

Families are complicated and messy. Especially lately. So many families are torn apart because one person is a Republican or one person is a Democrat. Sad to think that these are the things that we use as a litmus test on whether we stay in contact with one another. My own family is not immune to this plight.

The military family is also complicated and messy. Talk about jamming disparate people into tight spaces and forcing them to work together towards a common goal and protect one another in battle.

We are women, men, straight, gay, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, rich, poor, classically educated, street smart, and mixes of everything.

And yes, we sometimes really can’t stand one another.

But we love one another.

Gone Too Soon

I can remember the first time I lost a friend in arms. We were deployed, and they were someone who took me under their wing. Older and wiser than I, they helped me make sense of nonsensical things and learn to let go of things that didn’t matter.

Every day I looked forward to our talks and his ‘mentorship’ in the gym, where he’d regularly ‘smoke’ me.

Then one day, he was gone. 

This wouldn’t be the first time I would lose someone to war. On one of my last deployments, I had a job where soldiers and SEALs would travel to my location to conduct the business of war before heading back out to undisclosed locations. 

I’d see the same faces week after week from each location. Then all of a sudden, I’d see a new face. I learned quickly to not ask what happened to so and so because the answer was always the same. They were gone.

There Are Worse Ways To Go

The brothers and sisters I’ve lost stay with me every day. The world was better with them in it, and I am better because I knew them.

My grandmother, a part of the Greatest Generation, told my mom once while watching some news report about a horrific murder in the states that there are worse ways to die than in battle.

To die for one’s country is to die for something more profound than just the landmass that is the United States. To die for one’s country is to die for something more profound than symbols like our flag, Uncle Sam, baseball, or apple pie. 

To die for one’s country is to die fighting for something so much larger than any of those things. It’s to die for an idea, a belief that the world can be better, that we can be better.

My husband and I are lucky. Thanks to everyday men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, we can live for our country. 

Remember my brothers and sisters as you light up the BBQ, crack open a cold one, and plan out your summer events this weekend. And make sure you live the hell out of your life for them. 

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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