Yesterday, I was thinking about what Memorial Day means to me, to my family. Memorial Day was started after the Civil War and has been a part of our nation’s history every May since. Hundreds of thousands of men and women have died in the service of our country. Before I married a soldier, it meant going to a Civil War reenactment or grilling out with the family. After being married to a soldier this long it has changed.
I’ve made many friends thanks to the Army life we lead. Our first duty station was a Ranger battalion and I learned about camaraderie and commitment. I saw young guys who bonded like brothers and would remind you of your brother, that guy from one of your college classes, the guy who is working on your car, any young guy you see from any walk of life. I watched as my husband left shortly after 9/11 with these guys and prayed they would come back to me, all of them. When they did return I had a few guys come to see me, before my husband got back and open up about what they’d experienced and seen. They needed a friend who wouldn’t judge or try to “fix” them, just an ear. I saw how war changed my husband and my friends.
Six deployments and many friends later, I have seen guys return from war very different than before they left. You can always tell who the newbies are. The guys who have never been on a deployment, their nervous excitement is evident. The vets seem to look toward a deployment with a sense of duty, using what they learned last time or the time before to make this one better.
I’ll never pretend to understand what those guys have been through. I cannot imagine how their lives could ever be the same, but I do know that the wives and families of those deployed change. most of us grow stronger, despite our breakdowns, rage, sadness, loneliness. No matter how many times our loved one has been gone, we wonder where he is, what he is doing, if he is ok. War changes our lives, both the soldier and their family.
On this Memorial Day I will remember the men and women who did not come home to their families and remember the families who lost their heroes. I will remember the soldiers who came back, but left part of themselves behind. I will grieve for the man and woman who left part of their old selves on the battlefield and came home in pieces. Even if they are never “diagnosed” with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury, every military member who has been in war changes. The changes impact the families and friends. Please remember that there are those who died in their work, but there are those who have come back and are still giving daily.