Each year I see it happen. Maybe it was because I was a military spouse for over four years. Maybe it was because I have seen the effects of war. But each year it bothers me.
Memorial Day is to remember the ones who we have lost. The ones who sacrificed it all. Three years ago I fully understood what those words meant.
My ex-husband was deployed while I was a surrogate in the spring of 2013. We were on the phone when I realized something was wrong in Afghanistan. I heard the questioning he was trying to muffle. He then told me they were going to go on a com-blackout and he did not know when he would be able to call again. Communication black outs happen if someone has died to prevent social media and word of mouth from reaching the loved ones before military officials can.
He hung up and five minutes later my belly buddy was earthside. The emotional struggle I felt for the next few weeks was hard. I felt the entire circle of life in that hospital room. I knew while I was experiencing a new life being brought into this world, my friends overseas were experiencing hell as they knew it. Less than an hour before Liam was born, Captain James 'Mano' Steel lost his life fighting for our country
The brave men and women of the 77th Fighter Squadron located at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, SC arrived home three weeks later. They were three weeks away from landing home when Capt. James 'Mano' Steel lost his life. I watched the jets come in the days before and cried. I wept silently as the large Boeing 777 circled above us before landing with the majority of the men and women.
But one did not come home.
Five days later, we all met back in the same hangar we welcomed everyone home to have a memorial. The large American Flag was the backdrop was the same from the days before. It was a preparation for our time in Arlington a few days later. I do not think anything could prepare me for what I would experience while I was there.
We toured Arlington the day before the funeral. A horse drawn casket walked through as 200 or so tourists and students paid no attention. My knees buckled and I gripped on the stroller a little tighter. I looked around at all the tourists not stopping or caring. Do they realize what that casket represented? Do you realize what that man or woman has done for you?
I stood there and cried. In that moment I felt everyone should witness a funeral in Arlington. The magnitude of it all struck me.
Later we walked the National Mall. If you've ever been to Washington DC then you know that the airport is nearby. You hear planes often take off and land. But suddenly I hear a familiar sound. The roar of a fighter jet was making itself known. I stood and asked if it was a jet and found out they were practicing for tomorrows fly over.
The next day, when the flyover happened, my heart sank. Since that day I have never been able to experience a fly over without crying.
The funeral was very humbling. I had met Mano through passing. Visiting the squadron and just hearing stories my ex-husband has said. But the funeral has always effected me. The weight of being in Arlington for a funeral was so heavy. We heard the 21 gun salute twice while we stood on the hillside. There were 17 funerals in all on May 3rd, 2013. After some research it seems that was a slow day in comparison. Seventeen men or women were laid to rest that fought for our country.
Since my divorce, the 77th has lost another brave soul overseas, Capt. William 'Pyro' DuBois. The 77th was a family. I still talk to many of the spouses and squadron military members. My heart broke at the news that yet again, on their first deployment after the loss of Mano, they had another death shortly into their deployment. It is something you never think will happen and pray it never does. It hurts to see so many friends in pain due to another loss.
In the end, I hope my son will grow up knowing what our service members do for our country. I hope he understands what Mano’s selflessness truly means. One day when he goes on a school trip to Washington and there is a casket going past I hope he stops and prays for their family. These are things I wish for my child. I hope he understands the magnitude of what our American Heroes do for us day in and day out and the ones who sometimes pay the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.