This was my first memorial day without my mother. She didn’t die in combat or in the line of duty, and was fortunate to have retired a Colonel from the Puerto Rico Army National Guard. Her battle with cancer was a short one, and it was her warrior spirit, on and off the battlefield, that earned her the respect of her peers. I’d never seen so many men in uniform weep; it wasn’t just my family’s loss, it was the community’s as well.
To honor her memory, and the service of those brave souls who fought for the red, white and blue, I volunteered to host an info table on the poppy tradition of honoring the fallen by wearing a flower on May 24th, and through the holiday weekend. Our company’s veteran affinity group’s activities included a flag ceremony, posting pictures of veterans and active duty members on a hero wall, a short snorter presentation, and hosting tables with treats for vets. We gave away flags and poppies for coworkers to adorn desks and gravesites in honor of those who died in combat. Although part of the goal was to recruit more veterans and supporters/allies into the team, we found out the hard way a few years ago that many vets, especially those who went to Vietnam, have mixed feelings about our endeavor. War evokes many strong feelings that are hard to address in a 3 hr display window.
I had to use all of my energy to contain my tears; they are symbols of the pain of love and pride felt whenever I have to thank someone for their service because it reminds me of my mother. I spent many nights wishing on stars (which actually were airplane lights on landing approach) for her safe return. I can relate to the stars of the viral homecoming videos and strong bese hugs. I can only imagine what it feels like to not see our heroes return. Our mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, spouses, and significant others. The reasons our hearts swell with joy, excitement and courage.
It was hard to experience the rude rejection of the poppies and flags we were offering. Although most people opened their hearts and minds to the gesture, there were a few that challenged the whole idea. I was flabbergasted. All I could keep thinking to get me through the day was the way my mother, the Colonel, wore her uniform proudly. She was very enthusiastic about her role as a logistics and intelligence officer, driven by the impact her work had on rescue operations and personnel deployments. It’s not an easy job to take care of others while they are sent to war. I am very grateful that those troops had a loving and caring individual leading them off, someone who actually did her best to bring them back home safely.
This Memorial Day, and all throughout the year, do your best to support our troops and their families. Their sacrifice shouldn’t go unnoticed, especially since they go fight these wars for their country so the rest of us don’t have to. Anywhere else in the world, military service is mandatory under constitutional decree. We are truly blessed to have been born in the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
For more information on the poppy tradition, visit the American Legion website.