You’ll Never Know How Truly Grateful I Am

As I grow older, I’m turning into a mush pot of emotions when certain events roll around.

Take, for example, Memorial Day. At the time of this writing, it was yesterday and due to our busy schedule, I didn’t have time for something I really enjoy doing every Memorial Day–visiting the military section of nearby Evergreen Washelli Cemetery.

Now, it’s not because I want to get to know the neighbors, as my future is in the fifth row of a mausoleum across the street. But for each of the major patriotic holidays, I feel the least I could do is go over in person and say thanks to all men and women who gave their lives for this country.

For years, Memorial Day weekend to me was what it is to so many people–the official kickoff of summer, when you’d pack up the car and go on a road trip. Maybe a camping adventure to see how much rain your tent could absorb or going across the mountains to a cabin on a lake somewhere. As Americans, we’ve been trained that Memorial Day weekend is that special time when cars go on sale, or that it’s a great weekend to buy a new appliance. After watching all the commercials, you almost feel guilty if you don’t have some kind of barbecued meal. I mean, to not have some kind of a barbecue is almost un-‘Merican. (yeah, sometimes when you’re waving the red, white & blue, you drop the ‘a’ in America)

But I would say the past 5 years or so, with that amazing patriotic display less than 5 minutes from our house, I find myself drawn. To take pictures, to read the headstones, to reflect.

That’s why today, the day after the holiday, I zipped over while the flags were still up. If you want to feel the holiday, it’s simply the way to do it. And this year, I randomly wandered into a special row and started reading the headstones.

Notice the theme. This row included multiple service members, all of whom died in 1969. That was the year I graduated from 8th grade and was bracing myself to head off into high school. Some were World War II or Korea war vets. But most were 20-somethings that were drafted, shipped off to southeast Asia, and sent home in a flag-draped pine box.
Where that hits home with me is that in 1973, I graduated from high school. That same month I picked up my diploma, the U.S. military draft officially ended.

That was close.

Even though they stopped drafting people and the Vietnam war wound down, they still drew numbers for people born in 1955.

My birthday put me in at #233. I’m not exactly sure if that meant I would have been sucked in, or missed it, but no matter.

How different my life would have been.

The graves before me were those of people who died in the service of our country. You may not have approved of the conflict or the politics of the time, but the way I look at it–they served so I didn’t have to.

To the active and retired military who may stumble across these ramblings, I just want you to know I get it. I sincerely appreciate everything you have done to keep the rest of us out of harm’s way.

To those who think you don’t need to worry about things like that anymore, I offer you one word: Ukraine.

The Washelli cemetery is just one of hundreds of place where our soldiers have gone to rest. Whenever I drive by, I’m always reminded of their sacrifice. But when Memorial Day and Veterans Day rolls around each year, I just can’t help but stop by for a visit to reflect, one more time.

Age increases my appreciation. The phrase, “Thank you for your service” takes such little effort to say when one of our military is standing in front of you. But it’s a powerful way to show you get it and that you sincerely appreciate what they do.

In the meantime, thanks dad, Uncle Bob, Uncle Chuck, Uncle Larry and father-in-law Ernie, Cousin Rick, and to all the veterans we have lost over the years–thank you!

You’ll never know how truly grateful I am.

Tim Hunter