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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

What Memorial Day Means to Me


Memorial Day is a time to remember the 1.2 million men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedoms. That is the version you see in all the media when Memorial Day is celebrated.

But to all of us lucky enough to make it back from those conflicts, the day has special meaning.

While I was stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey, I had the dubious distinction of being the Notification Officer for New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. What that means is that when a loved one was Killed In Action (KIA), I was sent with a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) to notify the family that their son, daughter, husband or father given their lives for our precious freedom.

The NCO and I arrived at the family’s home wearing our dress blues. When they saw us walking up to the front door, they knew exactly why we were there. The reactions of the families have stayed with me through the years. They seem to come up more as Memorial Day approaches.

Some of the mothers wouldn’t answer the knock at the door, hoping against hope that the bad news wouldn’t be delivered. Some just started crying, some cursed at us, some hit us and some just had that blank stare with no reaction at all.

No matter their reaction, we tried our best to soothe their sorrow, but that was like using a Dixie Cup to empty Lake Michigan.

The one notification I remember every day is the young wife who was six months pregnant. We knocked at the door and when she opened it and saw us, she started crying and came up to me and just hugged me. She thanked me for being so respectful of her husband’s sacrifice. She asked me what my name was. I told her and then she told me that she was going to name her son after me.

I went through some pretty tough training, but no amount of training prepared me for that reaction. It was all I could do to keep from crying.

Yes, I still march in the Memorial Day Parade and go to the ceremonies, but these are thoughts that constantly haunt me around this time. There has been some comfort in knowing that the armed services have another team that goes in there to help the families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Quite frankly, if I had a choice of a notification detail or combat I would choose combat.

With all that life has taught me over these many years, I would pray for peace.

“LET PEACE AND BEAUTY BE FOUND HERE. REMEMBER THOSE WHO SERVED US WELL.”  Since 1989, that hope has graced the base of the Armed Forces flags in Veterans Park where the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument was dedicated in 2023. At 8:45AM Mon., May 27, 2024, a Memorial Day Remembrance with wreath laying will be observed in Veterans Park, located at 300 Gartner Road.
No matter where you stand or what day it is, Veterans Park always is a peaceful place to pause and reflect about service and sacrifices provided by the Armed Forces. (PN File Photo)
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Mike Barbour
Mike Barbour
Mike Barbour is a Service Officer, American Legion Post 43, and regular contributor to PN. Also contact him at mbarbour@wowway.com.