My intention was to write about Memorial Day a few days ago. Because of crises on several fronts, that just didn’t happen. But, while the official holiday has passed, our gratitude should resound like the fireworks many of us enjoyed this past week end and not end with Tuesday morning back-to-work traffic.

The story of sacrifice can be summarized by the following illustrations. My great-uncle, Leon Stilson, was killed in France in World War I. The first postcard was sent from Camp Lee (now Fort Lee) and written in the code his father taught him so we can only imagine the homesickness and fear of a young man preparing for war. The next picture is of Leon, in uniform, at home on Grayland Avenue (then Chaffin Street), Richmond, VA, prior to departure for Europe. Later, his father wrote the dates he was drafted, sailed for France, and died on the photo.

Next is the post card confirming that he arrived safely overseas as well as a post card to his aunt, heavily censored (brown spots where they eliminated details as to his location and unit’s plans). You can almost imagine the sigh of relief by family as this mail arrived. Finally, the picture of his mother standing at his grave in France, 1932. I also found letters she wrote,returned after his death, marked “Wounded” and stamped “Deceased; Verified”.

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She went to France as part of a program for Gold Star Mothers (mothers who lost sons in the war). She saved everything from that memorable voyage: ship menus, French maps, pictures, and, of course, the flag presented in gratitude for her son’s sacrifice. She also brought home a shell reshaped as a vase, engraved VERDUN, the village where her son died. I hope to do something with her artifacts because that is a unique time and event in our nation’s history. I know of no other war in which the government sponsored trips to other countries so relatives could visit their loved ones’ graves.

The sacrifices of those young men in the Great War were compounded by the deaths of so many more, in so many other wars. The war that was to end all wars was only the First World War and each succeeding conflict has been a World War as well. Numbers of our dead change with each war but the heartache of loss pierces today just as it did in 1918.

My son, Patrick, lost a dear friend, Tim Price, in Iraq. Tim was an MP, like his dad before him, and had finished his tour. He was safe. But MPs were needed and they asked for volunteers. Tim stepped forward, again, to protect and defend and shortly thereafter, we lost a brave young man to a sniper’s bullet. Ironically, it was also a sniper that killed my great-uncle in another time, another war.

Tim Price is not forgotten. I wore the yellow ribbon with his picture Memorial Weekend and remembered him and all the other sons, husbands, fathers, daughters, sisters and mothers who have given everything so that we in America could have everything. When it comes down to it, freedom IS everything.

ImageMy prayer is that one day, the metal that once formed shells will only be used for flower vases, that sons will not go to war, that families will not pray ceaselessly for their safe return only to receive the devastating news that their precious one has died in a distant country, alone and decades too early. I pray that my shell-turned-vase will be a relic that our future generations will read about but not experience. Until then, Memorial Day should be every day.

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