GUEST COLUMN: Enjoy Memorial Day but remember those who can't

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I’ll be honest I am writing this as I am about to head to Lake Martin. I am looking forward to promised BBQ, Chili Dogs, Boat Rides, and, yes, lasagna. I am looking forward to the drive, to winding my way through yet another lake trail that I have never been on.

I am looking forward to the chili coming out of the hotdog bun and onto my shirt. I am looking forward to my friends saying, “Well, now you have to get in the lake.” I am looking forward to the sun going down, to sitting in a comfortable chair and feeling a semi-cool breeze make its way gently through the pines as I sip on a cold drink.

I am looking forward to the cries of “Come on, just stay the night, we have an extra bedroom.” All of the above act as little statements, little demonstrations that let us know that someone cares for us and enjoys having us around.

In short I plan to enjoy this Memorial Day the same way many of you will and are enjoying it: with family and friends, food and drink, and of course that first time getting in the water — experiencing that initial shock of the cool water only to adjust, lay back in a float and enjoy the sun as it pours out of the sky.

But as I was sitting down to churn out a few words, I thought back to Memorial Day 2014, and I thought about the speech I was about to give at a Memorial Day Ceremony.

I tossed out my speech that day as I looked in the audience and saw the two families of soldiers that were not coming back. Those families would not hear their sons ever give a speech again.

They would never be able to say on Memorial Day at the lake, “Do you want a hamburger or a hot dog,” and hear the reply, “Both of course!” And they would not be enjoying Memorial Day the way almost everyone else would.

On that hot, late-spring day, with a slight breeze blowing through the pines — making flags wave reminding us of the wars that this nation participated in and won, for not only the people of the United States but of the world — I tossed my speech, and I spoke to those families of those soldiers.

I told them that I remember and that all the people here surrounding them remember, and that we all will remember their loved ones and the values that they stood for.

I went on to speak of my time in the Military, now over 29 years, and I spoke of how I was certain that their soldiers also loved every second of their service and how they loved their fellow soldier.

As the afternoon sun began to set, and as the ceremony ended, and taps played in the background by a bugler out of sight, and as everyone left the seats of their folding chairs and walked through the veterans park up the hill to their steamy hot cars, I knew we were thinking of those soldiers.

So I just ask you, “How will you spend your Memorial Day Weekend?”

I will tell you to do this; Enjoy it! Go to the Lake, the Gulf, or the Beach. Spend time with family and friends. Kiss your mom, tell your dad thanks, tell your wife you love her, tell your husband how much everything he does means to you, and make sure your kids laugh and smile because they’re with their families.

Certainly after the last 16 years, we all know someone who can’t do that for their loved ones anymore. Honor those more than a million Americans who have paid the ultimate price by remembering them and their families and by doing the above because it is what they can’t do.

Do what they paid the price for you to be able to do, and remember them while doing it.

God Bless America and the American Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine.

This guest column was written by Sen. Tom Whatley, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard. Whatley represents the Auburn area in the Alabama State Senate. 

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