Today’s Bryan College Station Eagle announced “the public is invited to a free Memorial Day ceremony to honor veterans” at 11 am, Monday, May 27, at VFW Post 4692, located at 794 N. Harvey Mitchell Parkway in Bryan. The story carried a thought-provoking statement by Vietnam veteran John Velasquez, commander of the local VFW Post, “I think it’s great to go to the lake, but it’s also important to take time out to honor our veterans.”
Having met John Velasquez years ago, it’s more than just words he says today; the emotions behind him are poignant, almost pleading, to the Bryan-College Station and Brazos Valley community that is, almost to a person, one of the most patriotic in the state of Texas—“Please don’t forget those who served.”
Texas A&M University is as patriotic a campus as any other, some would even say moreso, about recognizing those who served, especially as the nationally regarded Texas A&M Corps of Cadets trains future military leaders who graduate from their ranks each year. There are more war heroes among the Aggie former students than we can really even stop to count. Bravery, honor, service to country, service above self is just a way of life, assumed, presumed, and almost taken for granted as just what this community “does” for an official U.S. holiday to honor military service and lives lost.
Lest we forget the reason for the “holiday” weekend, advertising spots have been running nonstop on TV, mostly mattress sales and merchandise closeout ads, low, low financing on car closeout deals and such. While a patriotic song plays in the background of the TV spots, with a slightly neon flag symbol flashing on the screen, it’s “because of Memorial Day” that we are paying attention to the spot, so they think.
On Monday, May 27, volunteers for the Flags Across Bryan program will jump into action to set flags in thousands of local front yards to mark Memorial Day. There are hundreds of regular community volunteers, people whose names you’ll never know, whose faces you might never see celebrated or photographed, because they work behind the scenes, out of the limelight, among whom are the Boy Scout Troup 977 chartered by First United Methodist Church of Bryan, volunteers from the Bryan Rotary Club, and more, who will assure that flags are flying and flaring in the breezes sweeping Bryan-College Station, for which we are all grateful.
Nearby, today and tomorrow, flags and flowers are being, or will be, taken to gravesides of fallen soldiers at Houston’s Veterans Cemetery, where somber faces will stare upon gravestones of loved ones gone too soon, in the battles of World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam, Desert Storm and military struggles that don’t have big press coverage because they’re a simple part of daily military preparation for service.
It’s slightly disconcerting to step gingerly over so many op-ed pieces in the Sunday newspapers we hold, and the ones we read online, which encourage—nay barrage us—to remember that Memorial Day and the weekend around it is not meant to be about barbeques but, instead, about paying tribute to our nation’s soldiers. As if we didn’t know that. We do.
In fact, some of the writers have specifically “called out” how bad it is just to have a picnic or a weekend off, and not celebrate the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, past and present. Perhaps another voice can be heard, for what it’s worth.
The more often I saw the phrase “Memorial Day is not about barbeques,” the more thought I gave to what it was about, at least to me. Perhaps in some way, some journalists, historians, and pundits might not have considered just how valuable it is for a family or collection of friends who are extended family to each other, to have a reason to “get away from it all.” There might well be more than a few good ones.
For years, media have highlighted and reminded us of some of the effects of PTSD on men and women who’ve served in military conflicts during their careers. The slightest trigger or provocation can, without warning, bring back the horror, the nightmares, and the pain of loss, whether it is the loss of a buddy in a fox hole, knowing you came home but your best friend didn’t, watching your fellow shipmate get blown out of the crow’s nest, and hearing gunfire whizzing over your head, missing your cranium by millimeters, or getting the damnable telegram at the front door informing you, officially, that your fiancee is missing in action, or a mother learns, when the doorbell rings, that she has lost a son or daughter while they were in service to their country.
Going to Aggie Silver Taps in 1974 and learning of the death of an Aggie in military service who was the son of another family member’s best friend, whom you never even knew had come to Texas A&M. Names emblazoned on the wall at the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial wall. Taking your mother in a wheelchair to see the name of her young fiance on that wall, helping her to stand, to run her hand over his name, and watching her eyes fill with tears as she gave thought to the bravery he showed in running to serve his country, knowing you wouldn’t have been here if he had lived, because she would never have met and married my dad, knowing she had younger, underage, brothers who lied about their ages to get “into” the military service during World War II, because they loved their country and wanted to serve. Those memories are as clear as though they happened yesterday.
Loss, like life, is forever. It happens daily, sadly enough. So often we never get a chance to say “thank you” before it’s too late. Memorial Day is every day, every day our country’s government is in operation, every day that lawmakers try to act to preserve our freedom, or to correct it when it is threatened, and every day that a man or woman puts on a uniform and swears to uphold the laws of our country, to protect and serve our community, and a way of life.
Writer Bill Youngkin, who so beautifully chronicles the poignant stories of Brazos Valley Veterans each week in The Eagle, will be the guest speaker at tomorrow’s Memorial Day ceremonies. Those in Bryan-College Station are fortunate to have four active veterans groups combining efforts for Memorial Day remembrance, including VFW Post 4692, American Legion Post 159, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 200, Vietnam Veterans Association Chapter 937, Bryan Elks Lodge 859, and the team at the Brazos Veterans Memorial. It all starts at 11 am.
Maybe some families mark this day with trying to forget their loss, as a way of coping, with a picnic or outdoor barbeque, because children don’t always need to be reminded their father or mother is gone forever, on just one or two days a year. They already know that. They do need to celebrate life, though, and perhaps a barbeque around extended family they don’t get to see otherwise except at holidays. So, don’t be too quick to judge the lake outing or the barbeque. It’s up to individuals how best to reflect and remember.
“Anyone can achieve their fullest potential.
Who we are might be predetermined
The path we follow is always of our choosing
We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others
To set the frontiers of our destiny.
Our destiny can’t be changed, but it can be challenged
Every man is born as many men, and dies as a single one.”
—Martin Heidegger, (this passage was quoted by Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray), on the episode “End Game,” broadcast May 26, 2013 on the USA Network, during their Memorial Day Marathon. Semper Fi.