Monday, May 31, 2010

Honoring Our Heroes on Memorial Day

In a new series of blogs titled "My Army Life," Army spouse Traci Cook shares with us some of the day-to-day happenings of living the Army life.

In many ways, my life is much like any other wife and mother.  I take care of my two boys, get them off to school each morning, and volunteer at their school.  I love my husband, enjoy the time we can spend together, and appreciate his hard work to give his family a good life. 

There are some differences, though, for a military spouse.  When we say 'goodbye,' it's not for a week-long business trip, it could be for a month-long training rotation in California or Louisiana ... or for a year-long combat deployment.  When my husband is away "on business," he is living a dangerous life. 

This was all brought home again for me this weekend as we remembered our fallen on Memorial Day.  Hubby and I had discussed ways to make sure our sons (ages ten and six) were cognizant of the heroes who have gone before us to pave the way for the freedom we now enjoy ... but weren't too disturbed by the somber reality of a career in the Army.  We decided that a tour of the 1st Cavalry museum on Fort Hood and a visit to the memorial there would be just what we needed.

We visited the museum first, reading lots of great stories in the proud history of the 1st Cavalry Division.  The boys enjoyed seeing the uniforms of the past and reading the stories of Soldiers in years past.  Their favorite quote was a replica of a memo sent by General Normal Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm that simply read, "Send in the First Team. Destroy the Republican Guard. Let's go home."

They enjoyed seeing the photos and asked their dad lots of questions about living in Iraq, the Iraqi people, and what our Army is accomplishing there.  The displays and photos really helped this come to life for them.  Another favorite display was a photo montage of Soldiers living in Iraq.  Our youngest son announced that his favorite photo was one of a group of Soldiers playing cards at night.  The unique part of the photo?  They were using glowing green 'chem lights' to see the cards!  He thought that was very resourceful of the Soldiers to do.

We also talked with the boys about honoring the memory of those who fought and died in service to our country and walked through the "Medal of Honor" hall in the museum.  Reading the heroic acts by so many was an amazing thing.  It wasn't long before our oldest noticed that most of the plaques read "Posthumous Award" and realized that most of these Soldiers were killed in a combat situation.  They left this room commenting on how brave our Soldiers are.

After the museum, we visited the 1st Cavalry Division memorial.  The memorial is a beautiful display near the division headquarters that honors the fallen Soldiers from Operation Iraqi Freedom.  (A complete description can be found at the 1st Cavalry Division Memorial Page.) 

We explained to the boys that the names on the memorial were listed in order by date.  As we reviewed the names, we asked them to select five names each and write them down on post-it note papers we had given them.  We discussed the names and decided that these would be the main Families that we would keep in our thoughts and prayers.  The boys placed these post-it notes in their rooms so they could remember these Families each night before bed.

As we continued to walk around the memorial walls, we noticed a young couple reading through names on a recent addition to the the most current wall.  The man was obviously a Soldier, the woman a girlfriend or young wife.  As they read, they would touch each engraved name and seemed to be sharing memories of that person with each other.  They stopped at one name and spent some quiet time there, and I couldn't help but photograph the moment.  Their grief was apparent and I took a moment to grieve with them for this lost friend, a US Army Soldier who did not make it home.

Our sons were appropriately serious about their time here and commented on the names they read and the items they saw at the foot of each wall..  We noted these items, left behind by loved ones who had visited the site earlier in the day.  Flowers, unit crests and insignia, and even chalk-drawn notes on the sidewalk were apparent at each wall.  One Soldier even left a bottle of beer at the foot of the wall containing the name of his battle buddy, a sight that  made the entire visit that much more real to all of us.  This Soldier had been someone's good friend, a buddy, somebody to hang out with and have a drink with ... not just a name etched on a wall.

As we rounded the last wall, we came across a smaller wall that had part of the map and missions of the most recent deployment.  My husband was able to spend a few minutes with our boys, explaining where he had lived, traveled, and worked for a year.  The boys had some questions for their dad and were genuinely interested in where he had lived for that deployment.  At the end of the day, this had been a great trip for us, to remind us of all those who have fought so bravely and given so much, to understand more fully what it is that our Soldier does each day, and to ensure that our heroes ... past and present ... will never be forgotten.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Our guest blog post this week comes from an Army wife who authors the blog, "This Fabulous Army Life."

I’d like to think that being an Army spouse has enhanced my views on holidays like Memorial Day. It’s one thing to honor an unknown group of heroes, and quite another to remember someone a little closer to home. Seeing the wife of a fallen Soldier in a local restaurant, watching kids whose Dad will never come home playing at the park, passing a unit headquarters with photos of their fallen comrades … common sights around the community where I live … it definitely brings this holiday home, and makes me more cognizant of those I did know as well as the numbers of unknown heroes that I didn’t.

I remember another patriotic holiday, the first I had ever spent off of United States soil. My husband and I were in South Korea and had travelled to Osan to see an American 4th of July rodeo and fireworks. I had been looking forward to it and hadn’t really thought much about the fact that we were in a foreign country that day; but when our national anthem began to play, all of the sudden, I found myself teary-eyed. I was seeing the wonders of our country in a completely different light. I was happy to be with my Soldier in Korea and proud he was serving there … but suddenly I missed my homeland more than I could have imagined. The celebration of our independence as a nation had taken on a new significance for me.

This weekend, I am glad to honor another holiday with its own historical significance. Paying tribute to those who gave all they had to preserve our rights, freedoms, and way of life is an important thing to do. I hope each of you find your own way to honor our heroes. I know families who attend and participate in the parades; and others who take their children to place flags by each headstone at the local Veteran’s Cemetery. What else can we do, I wonder, to show our gratitude?

I am so proud of our servicemen and women and love seeing veterans in our local parades and events. It’s unfortunate that many of them returned from war without the kind of respect they had earned. I hope they feel the honor and respect now that they may have missed when they served.

As we watched our local Memorial Day parade last Memorial Day, it felt good to say, “Thank you for your service!” to those veterans. My oldest son was a part of the parade (as a Cub Scout) and was excited about that. My youngest stayed with me, observing the procession. He was a little surprised when he saw the first veteran’s float. “Those guys are Soldiers?” he asked, “Like my daddy?” Knowing that he holds his daddy in “ultimate hero” regard, I was happy to tell him, “Yes, honey, those guys are Soldiers, just like your daddy.”

For more information, visit Army Well-Being: Veterans and Retirees.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Letters From War: Tribute to Mothers of Soldiers

Our guest blog post today comes from "This Fabulous Army Life" and is a standing tribute to those moms who raise our nation's Soldiers to adulthood, love them through their trials, and worry about them while they are far from home. We appreciate the service and sacrifice of our Soldiers' mothers.

I cannot fully appreciate the sacrifices made by the parents of our US Army Soldiers. Mothers, especially, who send their children off to war and pray for their safe return ... have my undying gratitude, love, and prayers. With two young sons of my own, I can get an inkling of what it might be like, but really, I cannot know.

I have seen my husband's mother support him throughout his lifetime, including four years at West Point, and through sixteen years in the Army, including thirty or so months of combat deployment. She is a stalwart supporter and a sensational prayer warrior.

We are fortunate to live close to Family while we are stationed at Fort Hood. Both sides of our families are in Texas, with Hubby's parents living only an hour away. This affords us (and them!) with some priceless opportunities to spend time together more often than when we live several states (or continents) away. His Family is always supportive of us and our Army life and for that, we are extremely grateful. In this photo, Hubby presents yellow roses to his mom at his Change of Command reception.

I recently came across a song and video titled, "Letters from War" by Mark Schultz. Always a glutton for punishment, I clicked 'play' and sat back to listen and watch. The song is a moving tribute to the mothers of our Soldiers. I could see my mother-in-law in the care and devotion the on-screen mother showed for her son, far away at war. Writing, especially, is a gift of hers and she is a constant source of support for my husband, deployed or not, and for our Family.

I wanted to write this post to say a public "Thank You" to my Soldier's mom ... and to share this song with you. Please share with the mothers of your Soldiers and tell them thank you for their service and sacrifice.

Letters from War is a beautiful song by Mark Schultz and a loving tribute to mothers of Soldiers. Kleenex are required for this vieiwing ... don't say I didn't warn you!

Letters From War from Mark Schultz on Vimeo.

She walked to the mailbox
On that bright summer's day.
Found a letter from her son
In a war far away.

He spoke of the weather
And good friends that he'd made.
Said I'd been thinking 'bout dad
And the life that he had.
That's why I'm here today.
And then at the end, said
You are what I'm fighting for.

It was the first of his letters from war.

She started writing ...
You're good and you're brave.
What a father that you'll be someday!
Make it home.
Make it safe.

She wrote every night as she prayed.

Late in December
A day she'll not forget
Oh, her tears stained the paper
With every word that she read.

It said "I was up on a hill,
I was out there alone,
When the shots all rang out
And bombs were exploding,
And that's when I saw him
He came back for me.

And though he was captured,
A man set me free.
And that man was your son.
He asked me to write to you.
I told him I would, oh I swore."

It was the last of the letters from war.

And she prayed he was living
Kept on believing
And wrote every night just to say ...

You are good
And you're brave
What a father that you'll be someday!
Make it home.
Make it safe.

Still she kept writing each day.

Then two years later ...

Autumn leaves all around
A car pulled in the driveway
And she fell to the ground
And out stepped a captain
Where her boy used to stand.

He said "Mom, I'm following orders
From all of your letters
And I've come home again."

He ran in to hold her
And dropped all his bags on the floor
Holding all of her letters from war.

Make it home
Make it home
Make it home

Thank you to all mothers who have raised servicemembers.  We appreciate you!

For information especially for our parents of Soldiers,