This will be a weekend of barbecues, family and good times.
For some it will mean an extra day in bed, at the beach, in front of the television.
According to forecasters, the weather outside will be delightful, with a small chance of rain and plenty o’ sunshine.
The beaches are inviting, the water intoxicating, with plenty to keep everybody busy.
Amid the hustle and bustle is time to pause to remember, to consider the price that was paid and continues to be paid for those bounty of choices.
From Lexington and Concord to Anbar Province, from the Chosin Reservoir to the Ardennes Forest, from Hamburger Hill to Hu Province, the price in American blood and lives is what affords us the ability to enjoy a “holiday” because it has surely been no holiday for the men and women of uniform.
Who have answered a call that some can’t imagine answering, who have suffered injuries many of us could not possibly comprehend, who have sacrificed beyond the pale, beyond what many of us could fathom.
We read, watch and hear their stories of battles in foreign lands, but we don’t, we can’t, fully appreciate the experience, the mind-set, the motivation required to defend your country, to sacrifice all for your fellow American, fellow man.
You can’t know until you have walked in their boots.
The price paid by men and women, who have fought and been seriously hurt – while many of their comrades have died – to provide the backbone to basic rights we enjoy, rights that seem under attack, the right to free speech, freedom to worship where we choose, a free press.
Memorial Day’s meaning was driven home to me since I came to Port St. Joe, one of the first stories I wrote for The Star, about the death of Christopher Blaschum, a Lieutenant Commander and Navy pilot who died while on training exercises in the Mediterranean.
He was a graduate of Port St. Joe High School who was known for his infectious laugh, out-sized personality and among the first of what has become the thousands of those who died in the wars that followed 9/11.
His funeral was in large part a celebration of his life and mourning of his passing, but also a heart-rending testament to the sacrifices of the soldier. Once the uniform is donned, soldier cuts to the front of the line from adjectives such as son, father, husband, wife, sister, brother and mother.
The uniform wipes it all away.
Over the years, I have also had the honor of writing about Major Buck Watford, who has spent four years since 9/11 in service to his country, leaving behind a wife and two, at the time, small children, because that is what you do when you sign up to serve in uniform.
The following “Motivational Analysis” was written by Lt. Colonel Richard T. Tallman and is contained within the file of Clifford S. Sims’ Congressional Medal of Honor file. Sims was awarded the Medal of Honor after throwing himself on a grenade to save his men in a far-off province in Vietnam.
He is the only man from Gulf County so awarded and if it does not capture what we should remember this weekend it is hard to know what would.
“Staff Sergeant Sims was not a man to act rashly; he made decisions with the firm belief that he was right, and he made them without counting the cost to himself. He was intensely loyal to his men, and never put his own interests above theirs. Just five days before he died he was assigned the task of securing an LZ during heavy fighting. He assured that his men were properly positioned and behind suitable cover. And he made certain that the wounded were expeditiously evacuated. Yet he never considered cover for himself during a full six hour period during which he was under a harassing sniper fire. His devotion was to his duty and to his men. And so I believe, as he never acted otherwise that I was aware of, did he consider the safety of his men on 21 February, fully aware of the sacrifice he was making, yet more poignantly concerned for the fate of his men were he to choose any other course. In simple fact, Staff Sergeant Sims knowingly and willingly laid down his life so that his comrades might live.”
Even having read that passage dozens of times, having read the testimony that was submitted recommending Sims – this man who rose from an impoverished, segregated life to marry, have a child and go off to war and not return due to his sense of honor and duty – for the Medal of Honor, trying to understand his sacrifice under fire still clutches the throat.
And particularly in this day and age when too much of what we read, hear and experience derives from the impacts of men and women, at home and throughout the country, who carry with them a false sense of entitlement, that life owes them, that their community owes them.
Sims’ life and his sense of patriotism and courage shames them all and is a lesson all youngsters should be taught and understand, as some will walk the stage for graduation this weekend.
An this Memorial Day we pledge to have a fine time, spend the extra hour in bed if able, go to the beach, have a meal out, but do so remembering that for more than 200 years and counting men and women have paid a price for this holiday in blood.
That such men and women have existed through the years is sufficient to remember; that they continue to walk among us is reason for celebratory awe.