Every year before this one, I always wished everyone a Happy Memorial Day. Because that’s what you say, right?
I would’ve been excited about the three day weekend and the unofficial start of summer. Praying for nice weather for the official opening of the pool. Probably trying to decide which book to read next if I wasn’t already into one. And of course looking forward to hot dogs or hamburgers or maybe both.
But this year something changed. I started questioning the use of the word “Happy” with “Memorial Day.”
I’m sure it had to do with being moved to tears during our jaunt to the Garden of the Missing in the American Cemetery at Normandy last summer.
I’ll never forget our tour guide on the way to the cemetery telling us to be sure to see it. How very beautiful it was.
I remember thinking, It’s nice, and the roses are pretty and all but it’s kind of plain and subdued as far as gardens go. Wonder why she thought this was so nice?
Right about then is when my husband said, more to himself than me, “My God. Look at all the names.”
That was the garden’s true purpose. The walls enclosing it were etched with all the names of the soldiers whose bodies were never found. A few names, a very few, had stars next to them to indicate that at some point their body had been recovered.
But most were not so lucky to have those markings.
The thought of all those men, and all their loved ones, and the last goodbyes they’d shared, which would be forever goodbyes, broke my heart and the tears came streaming out. (Which is what I thought would happen when I saw all the grave markers. I did get teary eyed, but not like what happened at the Garden of the Missing.)
During that same visit, we also went to Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach.
I wasn’t expecting to see the plaque inside one of the bunkers at Pointe du Hoc honoring the Army Rangers who had scaled the cliffs to capture that strategic point during D-Day operations in 1944 and gave their lives doing so.
I wasn’t expecting to see the massive sculpture set in the sand at Omaha Beach or the towering monument marking the very bloody battle where thousands of servicemen died in a move that would greatly impact the war.
Then there was Arrowmanche. To this day the remnants of the massive man-made harbor at Arrowmanche that was constructed by Allied Forces during the D-Day operations still serves as a reminder of what happened there.
It’s a beautiful seaside spot. Before the war it was a vacation spot. After the war it eventually returned to that…but would also never be the same again. Because its history made it a tourist destination for other reasons besides it’s beautiful seashore surroundings.
So, yeah. “Happy” no longer seems a fitting pairing with “Memorial Day.”
All I know how to humbly say now is blessings to those who have given their lives serving our country, and blessings to the loved ones who’ve had to continue on without them.