Several years ago I came home from a two week military training exercise — an exercise to prepare my unit for yet another overseas deployment. As I arrived home very late at night, I greeted my husband and then quietly went upstairs to bed so as not to awaken my children. The next morning I was jarred from my sleep by the incessant ringing of the phone.
I groped around blindly for the receiver, but by the time I picked it up, my 3-year-old son Noah had already answered it from the downstairs phone in the living room. I listened as the caller asked, “Is your mother there?” My son quickly responded in his high, little man’s voice: “She doesn’t live here very much!” His words struck me like a swift stone to the chest; until that moment, I hadn’t thought much about the impact my frequent absences had on my kids.
I often think about my son’s words on that long-ago morning, but they have special meaning for me in May when we observe Memorial Day. Memorial Day — or Decoration Day, as it was then called — was established after the Civil War to commemorate those who died in battle. The Americans we remember fought for their homes against vastly superior British forces; they fought brother against brother over dearly held principals in our Civil War. They fought in the trenches of France, on the bluffs of Normandy, in the icy mountains of Korea, in the jungles of Vietnam, on the Arabian peninsula, and in support of peacekeeping and humanitarian missions too numerous to list. They did so not because they loved war, but for a higher purpose — to protect our nation and preserve our freedom.
Americans are profoundly indebted to all those who have given their lives defending us; that is why this day has been singled out. We must also, however, remember the sacrifices of the families and friends these warriors left behind. My son accurately said that Mommy “doesn’t live here very much.” As a result of my military duties, I missed many of his important firsts, to include his first word, his first birthday party, and his first snowfall. He is lucky, though. Sons and daughters of our nation’s fallen heroes would give anything to say that their parent “doesn’t live here very much.” Instead they have to say, “Daddy (or Mommy) doesn’t live here anymore.”
On this Memorial Day (Monday, May 26), remember that our freedom will be preserved only if Americans continue to answer the call — and prove ourselves worthy to be free. In whatever capacity we serve, may we always be worthy of the sacrifice of America’s heroes. During Memorial day, visit a military cemetery. Walk among the headstones of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and intrepid Coastguard men and women who died much too young so that we may all live free. And listen to, offer a hug to, or just be there for, those left behind.
Kat Miller is the director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services.