Making God Laugh

For the past couple of months this day has bothered me…knowing it was coming bothered me.

Today is just another day.

Today is just another anniversary of my birth.

This day is really no different than any other day in the year, other than today, I am another year older.

I really have not struggled much with getting older.  Most years I embraced my new year, my new age.  And I really celebrated my day.

But this birthday has been hard for me….. not in the “holding my breath” hard that my 51st birthday was.  But hard in the realization of what this age means for me.

There have only been a couple of birthdays that were hard, REALLY hard for me.  And it may surprise you to know it wasn’t my 30th or my 40th or even my 50th birthdays.  Those were milestone birthdays I embraced and celebrated.  Those birthdays were the dawning of a new decade for me.  A new stage of life.

No, those birthdays did not bother me.  20 did.  20!  I dreaded turning 20 because I was no longer a “teenager”.  I had to be an adult.  (Never mind that I had gotten married 2 weeks before I turned 20! And had my first child when I was 20!).  I was not ready to be an adult, a full adult.  I felt I had been robbed of my teenage years and did not want to let go.  So, yes, turning 20 was hard.

But not nearly as hard as my 51st birthday.  And you can read how that birthday impacted me here.  That birthday was the catalyst for my blog.

Today I turned 55.  And the past couple of months leading up to this day were hard.  I was not looking forward to my birthday, even thinking maybe I should skip it because if I skip it then I don’t really turn 55!  Yeah, right!  It was what this birthday represents, that it really, truly means I am more than halfway through my life that made this day hard for me.  My goal to live to my 100th birthday, is closer than I want and arriving far more quickly than I want.  This year means that there is only 45 years of living left to do and that is going to go fast.  Why it didn’t hit me until this birthday, I am not sure.  But it did.  And hit me hard a couple of months ago.  I know that I am so blessed to have reached this age.  Many do not get here.  My mother did not.  But it is still slightly difficult for me today.

The realization of where my age is now, had me reflecting on what I have accomplished in my life.  All those dreams and ideals of my childhood…what happened to them?  What had I accomplished?  How have I really made a difference in this world?

Before you stop and answer any of this, bear with me a minute here—

You see, I had grand plans for my life.  I believed that what I had experienced in my childhood meant that I was here, that God placed me here on earth, to make a difference on a grand scale.  I wanted to become a Social worker to help abused children.  I wanted to become an advocate for all those children who had no one to speak for them, all of those who had no voice. I saw myself sitting before the United States Congress, speaking on behalf of all those abused and abandoned children.  I envisioned that I would be a part of drafting policies and laws that would protect children.  I saw myself meeting with my Governor, with US Representatives and Senators. And I saw myself meeting the President and discussing policies to benefit abused children.  I believed I would achieve great things and have a huge impact on a grand, giant stage.

And I planned to do this all while raising my own children, because being a mother was one of the things I wanted most in my life.

Well, here I am celebrating turning 55 years old and the only thing that materialized that I, as a young girl, had dreamed, planned and envisioned for my life was to become a mom.  The rest didn’t happen.  I never stood on a grand, giant stage, literally or otherwise.  And I never had a huge impact on hundreds of lives.  that realization is what made this birthday harder.  I am running out of time.  I have lived for 55 years and what have I done other than to get married, follow my husband around the world and raise our boys?  More than half my life behind me and what have I done?

And then this morning I woke up and realized some things, had a shift in my thoughts that made this day easier…making aging easier.

Yes, as a young girl I had BIG ideas and goals, who doesn’t?  But life does not always go the way we plan. And well, I think God was a little amused with me.  You know the saying “Want to hear God laugh?  Then tell him your plans.”  Yes, I had told God what my plans were, and I heard him laugh a little.  God had a plan for my life that looked very different than the one this young girl envisioned.

And that life God had planned for me was better than I could have ever imagined.

One day during the weeks leading up to this birthday, my oldest son and I had a conversation that helped me to shift how I was thinking about the difference I have made in this world and just what I have accomplished.  He said to me that I had kept him alive.  I had fought for him to get treatment.  I had fought for him and fought with him, to get that help.  My son told me I was the reason he was alive today. Those words out of his mouth at that moment stopped me in my tracks.

I held my breath at the memory of all we had been through.  I held my breath remembering the pain, the fears, the worry.  I held my breath at the realization of just how close we came to losing him.  I held my breath as I saw just how far he has come and where his life, our life, my life is now.

The tears flowed.  My heart swelled.  I did not realize the impact I had had on his life these past few years.  I did not know what difference I had made.

We don’t always know when we impact another or how we impact another person’s life.  We don’t always know the difference we make.  Those small steps, the little things that mean something to another human being are not always recognized by us.  Maybe it is the smile we give someone.  Or maybe a kind word.  Maybe it is holding a door, or a kind, understanding look.  Talking with someone.  A meal.  Being vulnerable with others.  Maybe it is just listening.  So many ways.  So many small things that can have a HUGE impact on another person.  And maybe even changed a person’s life forever.

Maybe, those are the REAL grand gestures.  Maybe those moments are the REAL giant stage from which we make a difference in the world.

I have always believed and strived to live my life with the thought that helping JUST ONE person means I have made a difference.  If I could help just one person, then I was doing something.  And I hoped that by helping just one, then maybe I was making a difference in this world.

My son made me realize that maybe, just maybe I have done that.  At least when it came to his life.

God did not put me on this earth to use a giant stage for grand gestures.  That was for the Oprah’s, the Gates’, the politicians of the world.

I was put here for a smaller stage.  God put me here to make a difference on a smaller level.  One moment at a time.  One person at a time.

And that realization changed my thought this past week.  I still had a hard time this morning knowing I was now 55.  But it wasn’t nearly as hard.

I realized I am living the life I was meant for, the one God had planned for me.

And I am going to live each day to it’s fullest!  I decided that this year, 2020, would be about living each day because that is all I really have.  I am going to live each day in the moment, embracing all that life has to offer!

After all, I only have 45 more years, which doesn’t seem like much to me until…..

I realize that (when including leap years), I really have 16,436 days left to live.

And 16,436 days is A LOT of time.  A LOT of days to live.

I can do A LOT with 16,436 days!

Farewell 2019…. Welcome 2020

It is the last day of 2019.  The last day in this decade.

Wow.  Time has gone by so fast this year.

Tomorrow we wake up in a new month, a new year and a new decade.

I have spent the past few days reflecting on this past year and asking myself what I want out of the year to come.  I have a birthday coming up that is bothering me (I will write more about that as the day nears).  For now, today, I want to focus on my reflections…..saying good-bye to 2019 and hello to 2020.

The past few years were stressful.  And 2019 had some stressing moments, too.  But compared to the years before, well 2019 was quiet…. relatively quiet anyway.

Things are well with my family today.

There is light at the end of the very long tunnel for my oldest son.  Finally!  (more coming on that)

My youngest son is embarking on new and exciting adventures and living each day with his beautiful bride (our amazing daughter-in-love), who herself has accomplished great things this year with a lot of hard work!

The kids are all good.

My husband and I are enjoying this phase, with a little less worry in our days.  I resigned from my job at the beginning of the year and focused a little on me and a lot on my family.  That was a good move for me.

Yes, 2019 was a good year.  (mostly, anyway)

But the year went too fast.

I found that I did not spend as much time in the moment as I had planned for 2019.  Sometimes things happen.  Life gets in the way and I lose focus.  A good year can still have its moments—and curve-balls can still be thrown, even in a good year.

Yet, here I am.  And I am grateful the all the good that came in 2019.

Now as I look toward the coming year, I am thinking about what that year will mean for me, where I want to be, who I want to be.  As I have shared in the past, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions.  They don’t work for me.  Instead I challenge myself, I make the year about growing and becoming a better version of me, I have a yearly mantra.

And that is what I have been contemplating.  This next year is hitting me a little hard.  Age can do that sometimes.  So, I am thinking that after all of the years spent taking care of everyone else, this new year will be about me…. being a little selfish and making the year about taking care of me…. about living each day to its fullest.

There is a quote out there that speaks to me every time I see it—not sure where the quote originated (I have heard a few names) but it is a powerful one—

“You only live once?   False!  You live every day!  You only die once.”

Yes!  This!

All I have is this day, this moment.  I am not promised tomorrow.  Yesterday is gone.  Today is what I have.  And do I want to waste it?  Do I want to wallow in my worries?  Do I want to stay stuck in the past?  Or continue to fear what may or may not come tomorrow?  Thinking and living for yesterday or tomorrow means I am missing out on today, the only day I truly have…..

And I do not want to waste it!  Absolutely NOT!

I have always been one who strives to live in the moment.  I have not always been perfect at it.  The past few years had me living in the worry of the past and the fear of the future.  So, 2020 is going to be the year that I really, truly live each day, while putting the past behind me and keeping the lessons I have learned.  And by letting God take care of tomorrow, trusting that He has it and He has me.  All while I am focusing on now, this moment, this day.

And I am going to LIVE each day.  Embracing all that each moment, each experience has to offer—I am going to thrive in the chaos and the calm, the quiet and the noisy moments that show me I am alive!  My mom didn’t get to do that. But I get to…  I cannot waste a single moment, a single day.

Each day is a gift to be treasured.  The good, the bad, the mundane.  Each day is one more day I get to enjoy–one more sunrise, one more sunset, one more day filled with minutes to treasure and the people I love.

By living each day, knowing it is my day…a gift from God, I will be saying yes to adventures, and I will not let fear stop me.  I will get to enjoy all things because I will be present, here now.

2019, you were a good year, much better than the previous few years.  And tonight, I bid you farewell.

And I welcome 2020— the year I will live even more mindfully than I already do.  The year I take care of me!  The year that I will remember that I only die once, but I live every day!

After-all, today is the only day I have!  I won’t waste it!

2020 will be the best year yet!

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving.  A celebration of food, family, friends and gratefulness.  I spent a lot of time today, while cooking our meal, thinking about past Thanksgivings and about the things I am most grateful for today and every day.

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was a big family affair.  My mom, sister and I would travel from Portland, OR to spend the long weekend with family in Tacoma, WA.  For the long Thanksgiving weekend, we would stay at my Grandma’s house some years and others were spent at my Aunt and Uncles home.  Thanksgiving Day was filled with laughter, fun and food.  My mom, aunt (her sister), grandma and my older cousins who had kids of their own, would do all of the cooking.  The smells were wonderful.  My sister and I would play while they cooked and when our youngest cousins were there we all played together.  The men watched football until the meal was ready.

And then it would be time to eat.  The food was delicious.  All of the traditional foods.  And it was one of the few days that my mom did not make me eat everything….I could skip the foods I didn’t like.  After we were all stuffed, my sister and I would help with the cleanup.  And then it would be time for dessert…. The pies!  Pumpkin pie was my favorite.  Still is one of my favorites.  My aunt’s birthday was always right around Thanksgiving, so we also had Birthday cake and celebrated her birthday.  The whole weekend was a flurry of fun, laugher, food and love.  I miss those Thanksgivings!  And I am so grateful to have those wonderful memories to make me smile on days like this.  I am also grateful for family traditions…old and new.

As I cooked the meal today, I felt the presence of my mother and of my mother-in-law.  Strong, beautiful, loving women who made my Thanksgiving, every year a special one.  I am so grateful for those two women in my life.

I tend to try to find things every day to be thankful for.  A grateful heart brings me joy.  But today I am even more focused on gratefulness, not just what I am grateful for in my day, today…but what I am grateful for all year… and what I am grateful for in my life….

Today, I am grateful for—

My immediate family—my husband who keeps me grounded, who gives me strength when I just can’t seem to find it, who loves me at my best and at my worst, who makes me laugh, cry, and roll my eyes.  And my two sons and my daughter-in-law who give me joy in so many ways and who showed me just how much my heart can love.

My extended family—the mother I gained when my dad remarried, the woman who has shown me how strong a woman can be and who is an example to me of a strong woman of faith and who loves unconditionally.  The siblings I have and their spouses—all of them, the sister I grew up with, the sister and brothers I gained through my dad’s remarriage and the brothers and sisters I have reunited with—so very grateful to have them all in my life.  My birth family–aunts and uncles and cousins all back in my life, giving me back the missing puzzle pieces.  The many nieces and nephews I have gained over the years.  The extended family I gained when my son married, having them as a part of my family has enriched my life in so many ways!  How lucky am I?!  My heart is overflowing!

My friends, the ones I count as family.  Near and far, wherever they are they are always close in heart.  My boys “other mother” and her kids who are like my kids and who I watched grow up and become amazing adults.  Friends made in high school, the life long friends who are always there.  The friends made in the Air force, making military life bearable and fun.  The friends made through a shared journey.  The friends here, who get me out of the house and have become my support network. And this year, I am especially grateful for reconnecting with a dear old friend whom I had longed to have back in my life and now that we have found each other again (just over a year ago, now), the many years apart vanished, we picked up right back where we were when we were teenagers.  Friends truly are the family we choose.

I am grateful for another year.  For good health.  For a support network that keeps me going.  For family traditions.  For the memories that have helped to shape who I am.  And for love.

And I am grateful to God for this wonderful life.  It is not always perfect.  It is not always easy.  I have traveled my share of difficult roads.  But I have always come through them, stronger than I thought I was and with God by my side.  And the good in my life far out ways any of the bad.  This is a wonderful life!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Veterans Day–Thank You to All Who serve and Have Served

Today is Veterans Day.  A day to honor ALL who have served in our nation’s military… ALL who have signed on the dotted line…. ALL who have raised their right hand and swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

Today I honor those individuals.  The brave men and women who, since the birth of our nation, have served our country and who signed the blank check payable to the “United States of America”.

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I am fortunate to know, to count as friends and to love several people who have served our country.  I have relatives now currently serving and those from the past who have served in all branches of the military, during times of war and times of peace.  My husband comes from a long line of military men, from the beginning of our country, serving in all branches of the military and serving in every war fought as well as times of peace.  We are truly blessed.

My husband is one of those Veterans as well.  Not a single day has gone by when I have not been proud of him or his service to our Nation.  At 18, he signed on the dotted line and wrote that blank check to the United States of America.  He served his country in the Air Force, for 30 years, following in the steps of his father who served 20 years in the United States Air Force.  His brother served in the Marines.  Both of his grandfathers served in the Army.  He comes from a proud military family.

I am blessed to have been by his side as he served in the Air Force.  And blessed to have met many, many military men and women who served proudly in our great Nations Air Force, some still serving.  Every day, I was blessed to know these men and women, to know that I was safe and free because of them and their willingness, selfless willingness, to keep our country free.  They ALL signed that blank check.

Today I say THANK YOU!!  To every man and woman who has ever worn the uniform, THANK YOU!  To every man and woman wearing the uniform today, THANK YOU!  Because of you, we are free!  Because of you, I get to go to sleep every night knowing that I will wake up in the morning in the greatest Nation on this earth.

Every Veteran deserves thanks, today and every day!  Every Veteran deserves to be recognized for their selfless sacrifice for our country, for my family and for me.  THANK YOU!

And to my Veteran—Thank you, for protecting our country and for protecting our family!  I am as proud of you today as I was the day you enlisted!  I love you!

Plant–Bloom–Grow

Dirt.  There is just nothing like getting your hands in the dirt.  And planting something.   Nurturing it.  Watching it grow. 

This year I have rediscovered my love of gardening, of getting my hands in the dirt and nurturing something as it grows. 

I enjoyed gardening as a kid.  Mom bought a house that already had a garden in the backyard.  Strawberries were already growing in part of it, which I was so excited about.  And then mom said my sister and I could each have a section to plant what we wanted.  I planted a few flowers and corn.  I was ecstatic to plant corn.  I planted the seeds, watered them, weeded around them as they grew and enjoyed caring for my plants.  Then the corn grew, and I got 1 ear of corn.  Just one.  But it was mine.  I grew it.  I got to play in the dirt and saw the corn grow.  And when it was ready to be plucked off the corn stalk and cooked, mom cooked it for me.  I had just gotten my braces on, so eating the corn on the cob was NOT going to happen.  So, mom, lovingly cut the corn off my one cob so I could enjoy it.  It was the best corn EVER!  To this day, it is still the best tasting corn I have ever eaten! 

Through my teen years, I found that getting my hands in the dirt, whether it was planting or weeding, was calming.  It was therapeutic.  And I enjoyed it.

When my husband and I started our life together and moved to our first base in Grand Forks, North Dakota, I wasn’t so sure about gardening.  We arrived in February, just after a blizzard and with all the snow (for MONTHS!) I could not picture anything growing.  But then spring and summer came, and I finally got to dig my hands back into the dirt.  And I planted, flowers.  I grew vegetables, just a few that we could pick and eat throughout the summer. 

I loved getting in the dirt.  I still love getting in the dirt.  There is just something relaxing about it.  Over the course of my husband’s career in the Air Force, I had opportunities at times, to dig in the dirt and plant my own garden.  Not every place we lived, but some of the places. 

It has been a while now since I had my own garden, nurtured a plant and watched it grow.  The last couple of places we lived, I just didn’t have the time or the energy to plant.  But this past spring I was able to rediscover my joy of gardening.  We planted around our back yard.  I planted in pots on my back patio.  I enjoyed getting my hands dirty and boy can I make a mess!  I enjoyed the mess!  There is just something calming about playing in the dirt and in nurturing a plant as it grows. 

The dirt here in Arizona is hard!  Really Hard.  Digging in it is quite a workout.  The dirt needs preparation.   And as I helped to plant some of the most recent flowering shrubs, I began to see how gardening, planting and growing applied to our military life all those many years. 

Each time we moved to a new place it was a new garden to be planted in, and we were the new growth.  The new plants.  The new seedlings.  All of us ready to be planted and nurtured. 

Then as we left places where we had grown, it was the season of pruning, cutting back and transplanting…to make room for the new growth that would come behind us. 

At times the soil was very fertile, making it easy to establish our roots and grow strong.  Our blooms blossomed abundantly.

Other times the soil was not as friendly or easy to work with.  Sometimes the soil was hard, packed dirt, making it difficult to cultivate and grow.  Those times and places, we had to work extra hard to get our roots to take hold…. And that meant extra nurturing, a little tenderness and a lot of patience.  Though difficult to grow, it was not impossible.  The roots took hold and we bloomed. 

Life in the military really did reflect the quote “Bloom where you are planted”. 

The past few months, as I watered my growing shrubs and flowers and trees, I remembered all the places our family planted our roots… all the places they grew deep…. all the places those roots were shallower.  I remembered how we nurtured our family so we could grow and how our Air Force family nurtured us so we could grow.  And I thought about the ways we prepared the soil for the next plantings, the new families coming in behind us.  My hands in the dirt reminded me of all those times we had to be uprooted and transplanted and how we bloomed.  

And I smiled as I thought, that just as the seed blows through the wind and sprouts where it lands, we too did just that.  Every move we made.  Every community we lived in.  We grew where we landed. 

Just like my flowers now blooming and bringing smiles to my face and calm to my soul, our Air Force garden of friends and family and memories also brings a smile to my face, a calm to my soul and love to my heart.

And now, in this new season of our life, of our garden, my husband and I are planting roots we hope to grow deep and we plan to bloom here for many years to come. 

My Big Brother

I picked up my phone today.  I wanted to call.  It hit me.  I can’t.

My brother is gone.

Today is his birthday.  And I wanted to call to wish him a Happy Birthday….. but I can’t…….

January 13, 2010, my phone rang.  It was an Idaho number and I knew it had to be him, my brother.  The brother I searched my entire life for.  I had had his name for over 20 years and longed to hear his voice and to see him.  I knew it was him calling.

I will never forget that phone call.  The first time I heard my brothers voice and his laugh.   We talked a while that first phone call.  We laughed.  We cried.  We asked questions.  It felt so good to finally have heard from him.

My brother.  The one I longed to know.

We called each other quite a bit over the next year and connected on Facebook where we could share pictures and catch up on our lives.

And then came the day I would finally meet my brother and the rest of my siblings.  I met him and my older sister at a hotel.  It was wonderful.  That first hug!  I will never forget that.  Or his laugh.  Us girls talked and talked, and he listened and laughed at us and with us.

And then it was time for all 6 of us siblings to finally be together.  What a wonderful weekend that was…… a weekend filled with laughter, stories and bonding.

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I spent some time alone with my brother that weekend, sitting in his car in a parking lot waiting for our sister to meet our father.  We talked about our birth father.  My brother heard the emotion in my voice, saw the way I was struggling with seeing our birth father from a distance and he made me get out of the car and meet our birth father.  I will NEVER forget that.

After that time in the parking lot the three of us headed back to the cabin to have dinner and hang out with all our siblings.  We had a great meal, sat around the fire talking, and had a great time just hanging out.  So much laughter.

After that first meeting in 2011, my brother and I talked on the phone and stayed in touch via Facebook.  I would call on his birthday.  He would call me on my birthday.  And we would talk in between.  I really enjoyed those conversations. And his laugh.  He would tease me….  I so enjoyed having my big brother in my life.  It was part of what I had been missing in my life.

IMG_2328 copyWe didn’t see each other again until November 2012.  My husband and I went home to Washington for Thanksgiving that year.  I let my brother know we would be within a few hours of him in the tri-cities in Washington for a night on our way back to the west side of the state and he made the effort to drive a few hours to see us, meeting us for a late lunch.  It was the first time he had met my husband.  Such a nice visit, short, but nice.

The next few years brought lots of phone calls.  This was what I had always wanted.  My brother was a part of my life.  I wished we had grown up together, that we had had those years of memories to talk about… but we didn’t.  All we had was now.  Precious time to get to know each other.  I am so grateful for the time we did have, the short in person visits and the many phone calls.

I loved my big brother…  He was funny, had the biggest heart and loved the outdoors.  He could fix just about anything.  And he could play the harmonica!  He was so talented!

The end of December 2018, my brother came to Arizona, wanting to escape the cold winter in Idaho.  We were just one stop on his trip through California, Arizona and Nevada before heading back home to Idaho.

He arrived a day after my youngest son and daughter-in-law had arrived.  Finally, one of my siblings was going to get to meet my sons.  I was so excited to have my brother here.  The first night he hung out with us for a while, had some dinner.  We talked and laughed.  It made my heart so happy to see my brother with my family.  Another day he went fishing with my oldest son and stayed one night here with us instead of out at the lake in his camper, the night before my birthday.  It was a wonderful feeling to wake up on my birthday and have my brother here, in my house.  We spent the first half of the day just talking.  It really was nice to have him here.

And then he left again, heading farther away from us and then eventually back home.

May 29, 2019, I got a message to call his younger sister, the one who had helped my sister and I connect with our long-lost older siblings.  She wanted me to call as soon as I could.  I knew something was wrong.  That phone call….. I won’t ever forget…. She told me our brother was gone.

If only I had known that the night he spent here would be the last time I would see him….. if only I had known….. I wish I had been able to spend more time with my brother while he was here.  We thought there would be more time.  We planned for him to come back next winter and we would have more time together, we would plan it better.  If only……

That is the thing about death, it makes us question everything.  And it makes us wish for more time…for one more day…. One more hour…..

Today I wanted to call my brother to wish him a happy birthday.  I had 9 years with him.  It wasn’t enough time.  Yet I am so deeply grateful for the time we did have.  I am so grateful my boys got to meet their uncle.

I miss you, Nathan!  I will always miss you!  I will always love you, my big brother!

Happy Birthday!  I hope you had the best party EVER in heaven!

Memorial Day– A Day of Remembrance

This morning, our town held a Memorial Day Ceremony hosted by the American Legion-Post 39 and the Gilbert Historical Society.  It was held outside at the Gilbert Historical Museum in HD South.  My husband was the guest speaker for the ceremony.  It was an honor to be there to honor and remember all who have given their lives in service to our Great Nation.  And I couldn’t be prouder of my husband and the words he spoke to honor them.  May we never forget those who died keeping us free and my we always remember to honor them!

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Here is his speech, in honor of the men and women from all branches of our military who paid the ultimate price to keep us free-

“TIME WILL NOT DIM THE GLORY OF THEIR DEEDS”
– General John J. Pershing
MEMORIAL DAY 2019

Mayor, Councilmembers, distinguished guests, great patriots of the American Legion, fellow citizens and veterans of Gilbert, and to those among us who have an even deeper, more personal connection to this special day. It’s an honor to share this morning with all of you as we remember the fallen…… recognize their sacrifice…. and express our infinite gratitude to their families.

“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” These are the words at the base of a large stone eagle located in the middle of an American military cemetery in France. I found myself reading them as I stood among thousands of American graves as I visited the St Mihiel cemetery almost 20 years ago. St Mihiel is just one among many of the dedicated resting places for those to whom we owe so much.

It’s incredible to think that over 1.2 million Americans have been lost in service to our great nation since those first days when the ink was still fresh on our founding documents. So many Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice for liberty across the globe. So, I want to take you on a short journey of remembrance this morning.

If we travel 7,000 miles to our west, to the Philippines and the Manilla American Cemetery, we will find 17,000 servicemembers laid at rest. A little closer, in Hawaii, we remember the over 2,300 servicemembers lost in December of 1941, including over 1,100 on the USS Arizona alone…those lost on the Arizona included 37 sets of brothers and also a father and son.

Across the United States, in the 151 national cemeteries as well as in community cemeteries and family plots we remember hundreds of thousands of fallen warriors…the bravest of the brave…geographically separated but eternally linked in their sacrifice.

As we journey to our nation’s eastern shore, just across the river from the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capitol, we come to Arlington National Cemetery…final resting place of so many of the fallen. At the epicenter of this most hallowed ground …. The Tomb of the Unknowns. Perpetually watched over by the Army’s Old Guard, a tradition they have maintained for over 70 years, the Tomb is a reminder …. A reminder of those lost in conflict that were never recovered or returned to their
families. Since WWI over 86,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are still listed as missing in action …… but it’s been said, and I’m certain all of us would agree, that a servicemember is only missing if they are forgotten….so today we also remember those American heroes who rest in unknown graves.

As we look across Arlington’s Tomb of the Unknowns, just downhill and towards a rising sun, we find Section 60, also known as the saddest acre in America. It is the final resting place for so many of those brave young men and women killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. It’s where you will find the still grieving Gold Star families and friends of those most recently lost. These graves aren’t as old as the others in the cemetery and it’s not uncommon to find a family member kneeling
next to their lost loved one’s headstone in silent prayer. It’s here that you will find Army Staff Sergeant Alex Conrad, a local Hamilton High School graduate and special operations soldier killed in the line of duty just last year. We especially honor the sacrifice of those families today.

As we continue to move farther east and cross the Atlantic, we find Western Europe and North Africa dotted with 21 American military cemeteries where over 100,000 Americans are buried.

At the Normandy American Cemetery, situated just uphill from that historic beach, we can walk among 9,300 graves of America’s bravest from WWII …… and a single grave from WWI.

It’s at Normandy, inscribed at the cemetery’s entrance pavilion, where we find the immortal words of Sergeant John Ellery who said … “You can manufacture weapons ….and you can purchase ammunition, ….but you can’t buy valor and you can’t pull heroes off an assembly line.”

Among Normandy’s graves, we can find President Theodore Roosevelt’s eldest son, Ted Junior, who at 56 was the oldest to land during D-day. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on that beach but would not survive the war. As many of you know, he had been instrumental in the establishment of the American Legion after WWI. Ted had been gassed and wounded during the summer of 1918, then had returned to Europe to serve his nation again in a second world war.

At Normandy, Ted is buried right next to the only world war one grave in that cemetery. That grave belongs to his brother, and President Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin. Quentin had been killed in 1918 in aerial combat when he was only 20. He had been buried in an isolated gravesite until, a few years after the end of WWII, he was moved to the Normandy cemetery where he lies today, side by side with his brother.

As I mentioned earlier, it was just about 20 years ago that I found myself in France, about 300 miles to the east of Normandy. I was with my unit and we were participating in a combined military exercise.  While there, I made time to visit three local military cemeteries.

I first visited a French military cemetery to pay my respects. It was in a bit of disrepair….crumbling headstones and unkept grounds greeted my eyes……those young French soldiers had been forgotten.

Next, I came upon a German military cemetery…..and found a group of young military cadets doing their best to maintain those German graves, marked by metal crosses, so far from home. Their countrymen were remembered.

Last, I visited the American military cemetery at St Mihiel…over 40 beautifully landscaped acres containing 4,153 graves and a memorial to 284 missing in action. There I found a cemetery employee on his hands and knees moving from white marble headstone to white marble headstone along a perfectly aligned row of graves. Carefully, he sanded each to ensure they were a pristine white. I was
proud that the Americans buried there were not only remembered, they were cared for and honored each and every day. And on this day, we remember the sacrifice, often made in faraway lands, of our servicemembers.

At noon today, our flag will move from half to full staff and the memory of the fallen will be raised by the living. We will not let time dim the glory of their deeds but resolve that on this and all future Memorial Days to not let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and for a bold future… for our children……our grandchildren….. and for our great nation.

 

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