First we would visit the tombstone of my grandfather (Grandma's husband and my mom's father). Grandma would say a few words and I'd help her and my mom pull weeds, brush off fallen pine needles, and make sure the small rose bushes had room to bud and grow. Then we'd leave our coffee can and move on toward the front of the cemetery to find other relatives and place our coffee cans of flowers. It was always a quiet tribute, full of honor and respect and I can remember us leaving and I'd feel kind of sad, and at that time I really didn't understand the significance of the sacrifice and service my ancestors had made for our country.
Our tradition carried on through my high school years. At this point, it was something my family did without question. Only as I became older, our flowers weren't so much fresh cut lilacs and tulips as they were beautiful artificial bouquets that easily stuck into the soft earth around the headstone. No need for coffee cans or fresh water. The tribute was still the same and the feeling of respect remained even after all the passing years. Only now, I marched in our high school band who paid tribute to the fallen soldiers at the front of the cemetery by playing a couple songs and of course TAPS.
Even then, I remember not really "getting it". I was young and I knew what it all meant, but I couldn't see that bigger picture of what all of the fallen stood for in terms of our freedom and our safety. As I eventually moved away, my visits to the cemetery have stopped. Only now I have the memories of 911 to snap me back to reality. After watching network coverage in horror as the towers in NYC fell under attack, I suddenly understood what our soldiers go through and what our ancestors fought for. I really "get it" even all these years later, when terrorism is still a threat and there's the subconcsious fear of never knowing if/when someone will try again.
I may not go to the cemetery anymore, but it doesn't mean that the tribute isn't still alive in my heart and in my mind. Because it is. I hold the love of my country in the same regard as the love of my family. And to those who risk so much more than their lives to uphold this nations values and keep us safe, I speak for the many who may not completely understand your value and sacrifice, but who respect you all the same. We may never meet, exchange words or smiles, but know that you are loved and respected for what you've done and what you will continue to do.
For you, I leave this...