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When Memorial Day becomes personal

May 28, 2012

by Michal Ann McArthur
Bend, Oregon

Officially, Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor those in the military who have given their lives in the service of our country. For most of my life, I haven’t given the day the proper attention and respect it deserves. Part of my neglect might be understandable. I was born on May 31, so my birthday usually coincides with the long weekend. When I was a child, Memorial Day meant birthday fun and a break from school. I was that naïve.

But even as an adult, I haven’t had much personal connection to Memorial Day. My uncle fought as a paratrooper in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. My brother-in-law served in the navy, and my nephew did a tour of duty in Iraq. Thankfully, all came home safely. The closest I ever came to a personal loss was when a high school classmate died in the Vietnam War. But I barely knew him. On Memorial Days, I felt grateful as I sang the National Anthem with my hand over my heart, mentally acknowledging the huge debt of gratitude I owe to all those who serve.

But I wasn’t impacted on a gut level.

All of that changed on December 9, 2008. On that day, the son of dear friends, Sgt. Zachary Wade McBride, was killed in Sinsil, Iraq. In a house he and his team were searching, a rigged IED exploded. Zack was twenty years old.

He left behind two shattered parents and one shattered sister, plus countless shattered relatives and friends. I am one of those friends. When someone dies like this, the ripple effects are so far-reaching we as a nation probably can’t begin to comprehend the extent of the loss, but I know it’s staggering. Five other soldiers were killed that day along with one Iraqi, a young boy serving as their translator. This means that seven families and countless relatives and friends were all shattered by that single explosion. Multiply this loss by thousands to get some sense of the massive cost of war.

Since that awful day, Memorial Day had taken on a whole new meaning for me. When Abraham Lincoln dedicated the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, he solemnly noted that meeting together to remember the dead was “altogether fitting and proper.” I agree with him. Parties and picnics and car races are all fine, but I don’t think we should allow these activities to overshadow the true meaning of the day. Let’s take some time for sober reflection. Let’s honor those who have died serving our country. Let’s give the day the respect it should have. I’ll probably think about Zack every Memorial Day for the rest of my life.

Soldiers like him deserve to be remembered.


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Discuss this article

Alpine Dan May 28, 2012

Some suggest war is an ignoble enterprise no matter the cause. Yet some wars do have noble causes. Imagine a football stadium with 70,000 screaming fans. Multiply it by 1000 and you get the estimated 70 million murdered by Chinese communists under Mao tse Tung. (Stalin murdered about an equal number in Europe.) Note that if each stadium occupied 1/4 mile of earth, those 1000 stadiums would cover the distance from Washington to California. Imagine walking that line, the screaming now silent, the full length of Oregon. And thank the American soldier, sailor, airman and marine who gave it all up — and those who some day may give it all up — in their own personal stand against that kind of evil.

Jan May 28, 2012

Thank you for the moving reminder, Michal Ann. I am one of those whose dad and husband came home safely from military service. But what if the timing has been slightly different? You have given me much to think about today.

Nancy Ward May 28, 2012

Moving and beautiful article, Michael Anne. thank you.

Kathi May 28, 2012

I haven’t lost someone that I loved dearly and knew well, but I had a son who served in Iraq, and I was on pins and needles and praying day and night that whole time, so I understand the anxiety surrounding every soldier on the field. For those who are injured or killed, the loss is inestimable. I am grateful every day for those brave soldiers who stand between oppression and individuals (myself included). I don’t think we can do enough to support our troops.

Andrea Parunak May 28, 2012

This is a beautifully written tribute.

John June 4, 2012

Yes, nicely said.
I work in a VA Medical Center and appreciate your sentiment about Memorial Day.

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