For teachers, Memorial Day signals the start of summer vacation and the joy of the freedom that entails. For families who have lost loved ones to war, Memorial Day triggers memories of the sacrifices and costs of freedoms.

This juxtaposition is jarring. The freedom of starting two months of summer break is exhilarating, but pales in comparison to the freedoms Americans are assured by the selfless service of those lost while serving our country.

Daily news accounts of oppressive regimes paint frightening pictures. They detail the plight of starving children in Yemen whose schools have been bombed and whose teachers haven’t been paid in years. Interviews with Syrian citizens detail the atrocities before escaping government torture camps.

As the weekend of remembering draws closer, their service to protect our freedoms is felt poignantly. Bob Riley said, “I have long believed that sacrifice is the pinnacle of patriotism.” Many acknowledge the sacrifices of our fallen by remembering them with flowers, flags and parades. 

Having served with honor, they deserve to be honored. A helmet on top of a rifle standing in a pair of combat boots is a stark reminder of a lost soldier. Soulful trumpets playing taps pay tribute. Onlookers pause in silence during flyovers at parades to remember with respect and gratitude those who paid the highest price to protect our precious freedoms.

Students whose parents are deployed experience the stress of separation. One deployed dad who visited his son’s class upon his return said that the best parts was rescuing pilots that were shot down behind enemy lines. The worst part of being a military dad was missing birthdays and holidays with his wife and children.

He felt lucky to have contact with his family via Skype and satellite phone but still missed a lot of his children’s growing up years. After deployment, he was so grateful to be home just to pick up his kids from school.

The worst part of deployment for students is missing the daily interactions, like meals, story time and homework help. His daughter often became anxious, angry and sad until he returned. Then she became clingy and wanted to be with him all the time because her friend’s dad didn’t come home. 

One friend said that the hardest part about being married to a military man is not being able to help with his sadness over those he has lost under his command. Knowing where to turn with that kind of grief is hard.

When asked if this holiday has more significance to him than most Americans, the retired commander responded that he thinks of the men he’s lost daily and is still haunted regularly with flashbacks of combat casualties.

Another friend responded that while she misses her comrades and deals daily with symptoms of the head trauma from the concussion sustained when they perished, she’s lucky to be alive and determined to carry on to honor them.

The last Monday in May is a solemn day to remember the precious lives that were ended too soon. This patriotic observance honors those who died defending democracy. May the soldiers lost in war as well as their spouses and children who must carry on without them, know that their service to this country is acknowledged and appreciated.

Richelle E. Goodrich said, “Have you ever stopped to ponder the amount of blood spilled, the volume of tears shed, the degree of pain and anguish endured, the number of noble men and women lost in battle so that we as individuals might have a say in governing our country?  Honor the lives sacrificed for your freedoms.”


Kristi McCracken, author of two children’s books and a long time teacher in the South Valley, can be reached at

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