As Memorial Day weekend 2016 was on approach I was travelling with my parents, from Massachusetts to Florida, following my older brother's wedding. Inevitably we went around Washington DC, which travelers should avoid at all costs coming into Memorial Day weekend. I couldn’t help but realize that we were getting closer to the Nation's capital- passing signs for DC, memorials, and so on. Memorial Day was right around the corner, as well as the nation’s capital, home to Arlington National Cemetery, where a handful of my good friends are buried, no more than a stone’s throw away from each other. Where men like John Basilone, Medal of Honor recipient from WWII, lay, with headstones almost identical to the men and women buried around him.
This is where I would like to be, again, this Memorial Day, but circumstances will prevent my attendance this year. Maybe next time.
As the week was coming to a close a friend of mine asked if she could ask me a personal question, I obliged her. “How does this upcoming holiday make you feel?”
It took me a bit by surprise to be honest, and I only now realize that it was because nobody has ever asked me that question before.
I have been wished a “Happy Memorial Day”, which most Veterans sneer at, who choose to belittle, instead of educate, those who do not know the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day.
At the same time I had an old friend, Mitch, who took the time to hit me up and say, “Thinking of your brothers on this Memorial Day weekend.” Since we graduated high school in 2007, I have probably seen Mitch four or five times that I can remember. Time and distance have a way of drawing people apart, it’s just what happens.
Back to the question, “How does this weekend make you feel?” My response could be broken down into several parts.
My first response was that I miss my friends. This comes not only on Memorial Day, but also on their birthdays and on the day of their deaths. Winter going into Spring is particularly hard for the men of 1st Battalion 3rd Marines- my peers and I lost our first friend, Lance Corporal Thomas “TJ” Reilly Jr., 12/21/08, in Iraq. Then in Afghanistan, one year later, we lost Mark Juarez, Jacob Meinert, Timothy Poole Jr., Noah Pier, and Curtis Swenson, over the winter into the beginning of April 2010. Since that deployment I have lost nine other friends from the service due to suicides, overdoses, and car crashes. Certain songs remind me of them, like the song “Free Bird” by Lynrd Skynrd for my home boy Dane Freedman, or Taylor Swift’s (Marines love her oh so much) hit song “Love Story” for my boy from Boulder Steve Manitz. The list goes on. The point here is that I, we, miss them, everyday.
The second point I made was that it upsets me, how upset, some people get, claiming that all people see Memorial Day as a “BBQ day” or “the first day of summer”. This is what any literate person would call a “hasty generalization”, which means “..making a hasty conclusion without considering all of the variables.” Wikipedia also defines it as, “basing broad conclusions regarding the statistics of a survey from a small sample group that fails to sufficiently represent an entire population.” To put this bluntly, not politely, it is the same as someone stating, “black people are thieves”, “Muslims are terrorists”, or, just cause I have to, “all white people are privileged”. See what I am getting at here? Sure there may be some people that do not know what Memorial Day stands for, and yes, some Muslims, not all, are terrorists, and so on. Many of my military friends, civilian friends as well, seem to flip and fume as this weekend comes around because someone will wish them a “Happy Memorial Day”. To those of you that this applies to, I recommend the following- educate. The person wishing you a happy weekend isn’t trying to drag our friends through the mud, it is a compliment and a kind gesture. Accept their compliment and then feel free to explain (calm, cool, and collectively) the difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. For those of you that do not know the difference, Veteran’s Day is to honor anyone who has served in the Armed Forces, whereas Memorial Day is to honor those who died in service to their country. Got it? Good. Educate people and you will feel better, and ideally you won’t come off as another “crusty pissed off veteran”. While spending time with my buddy Zach I brought up this point. His response was on point. "Well, if people wanna be ignorant and forget what Memorial Day is about, fine. That's what we fought for, their right to be free enough to not care or have to worry. Can't really complain about it anymore." I couldn't agree more.
The third and final point I explained to my friend was that not just on Memorial Day, but everyday, I try and do something they would enjoy, and, love my family. For the guys I served with back in Hawaii I may try and spend a day at the beach, or outside when I was landlocked in Colorado. Some of my less than illiterate friends liked to read, so maybe I would pick up a good book. Dane Freedman loved to play guitar, which is why I learned to play. Steve Manitz loved Taylor Swift and dancing. Many, if not all, of the boys liked to drink in good company, which always works as well.
I know that all of them would like to spend time with family and loved ones again. They understand now, all too well, that life is short. Really fucking short. It is far too short to spend time bickering and fighting over some miniscule disagreement. My Dad and my uncle didn’t talk for years one time, all over the use of a boat. A boat and tab for gasoline charges. “I’ll never talk to him again,” my Dad said. That was when I was in high school. Back then I told him how silly the two of them sounded. I still hold this to be true.
So to rehash what I said, and what Memorial Day means to me:
A)Remember the fallen. The flag doesn’t wave because of the wind; it waves with the last breath from every man and woman who died defending it.
B)Educate, don’t be a dickhead. We all love BBQ anyway, and if you’re a prick they probably won’t share with you.
C)Do something fun and love the ones you care about. Go outside, take a hike with your dog, and when you get home call your brothers, sisters, and parents, and tell them that you love them.
I’m spending this weekend in Florida. A buddy of mine, Zach, lives a mere two-hour drive North of me. There are 3-5 ft. swells at Cocoa Beach on Saturday and 5-7 ft. swells on Sunday. I plan on spending my Memorial Day weekend in the surf lineup with my brother from the corps, his wife, and little boy. In between waves I will inevitably think back on the good times with the boys- the deployments, the hazing, the drinking, the dancing, and so on.
I hope everyone reading this has a great Memorial Day weekend and you heed my advice. And as always, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the fallen.
Appreciate what you have, not what you don't. It works. Trust me.
HONOR THE DEAD
Thomas “TJ” Reilly Jr 6/28/89-12/21/08
Mark Juarez 11/14/86- 1/9/10
Jacob Meinert 6/24/89- 1/10/10
Timothy Poole Jr. 12/17/87- 1/24/10
Noah Pier 7/28/84- 2/16/10
Curtis Swenson 5/11/89- 4/2/10
Nick Ott 3/3/88- 8/10/11
Adam Puckett 9/15/84- 7/8/10
Chuck Kring 1/14/88- 7/2/13
Dane Freedman 9/13/88- 12/13/13
Andrew Mayberry 9/29/84 -4/4/14
Trey Jablonowski 6/8/90- 5/11/14
Vince Schaffert 5/4/89 -6/28/15
Matt Jankowski 12/20/88- 1/19/16
Steve Manitz 2/25/88- 3/31/16