Memorial Day 2009
May is the month that we have chosen to set aside as a day to honor those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service for their country. Memorial Day is by tradition on May 30 of each year. But a few years ago congress decided the annual observance will be the last Monday in May. This change gives us a three day weekend that many believe is the beginning of the summer season. Children are finishing the school year and families are preparing for those long awaited vacations.
It is also the day all Americans should take a moment and remember those who serve our country in the military and those whose service cost their lives. Each fallen soldier had hopes of a tomorrow with family and dreams of a lifetime that lay ahead of him. But for thousands of American military those dreams faded with their loss of life. I believe we can honor their memory and perhaps keep their dreams alive if we remember their sacrifice for our country.
Just a few weeks ago the sky over Dover Air Force Base was a dark gray and a gentle rain fell as two families looked toward the 747 sitting on the edge of the air field. With ritual precision two flag draped transfer cases were removed from the plane into a waiting transfer vehicle. The event took only a brief moment in time that late Monday night but it will be long remembered by family members who viewed the return of their fallen loved ones.
Two soldiers returned to America that somber night. They died two days before at the hands of an enemy dressed like an Iraqi soldier. Two soldiers that were serving their country were killed and now returned home to grieving families. Both families had been informed of their loved one’s death and were asked if they wanted to be present for their return. At the same time a designated individual is asked if members of the press will be allowed to be present for the transfer. Both the question of family being present and allowing the press decisions have to be made right then. The two soldiers that came home that night were, Army Specialist Jake R. Velloza and Jeremiah P. McCleery. On this Memorial Day remember these two young men’s sacrifices for their country.
The Pentagon will now pay for family members to travel to Dover Air Force Base to view the proceedings. It is only a short moment the families are to be present for. Family members must stay at a distance and are asked not to touch the transfer case. After the transfer the members of the family return home and make preparations for the ceremony.
Over the next few days the soldier’s remains undergo a process to check for unexploded ordnance and prepare him for funeral services. The process is performed with great care and as much respect as possible. After the soldier has been prepared, he is then returned to the family for the funeral to be conducted with full military honors.
When soldier’s bodies are returned to Dover Air Force Base the press is limited to no more than 35. On April 5, the first arrival after the ban was lifted, and 35 members of the press covered the transfer. On Monday, when these soldiers came home, five members of the press were there.
Have we forgotten or have we chosen to look away? These two families choose to allow the country to be present at this very difficult moment. It should be that we stand with quiet respect and honor the fallen soldier. Whether it is in the light rain at a distant air field or standing silent at the grave marked by a small American flag, Memorial Day is for us all to remember and honor.
Over four thousand men and women have died since the war began in 2003. And before that many thousands more in uniforms have died defending the ideals of this country. Since we first started setting aside a day to remember the fallen, we have sometimes whispered to ourselves, “Perhaps this will be the last time we add new names to our list of war dead.”
Our lives are filled with many challenges each day, and we sometimes forget those that are far from home defending our country.
This Memorial Day stop for a moment, close your eyes, and imagine you feel the light rain and cold night air as you try and imagine the loss that thousands of families have felt. And perhaps by sharing a little of the pain we can make their hurt a little easier Thru The Lens.