My grandfather, Julian Dixon, died on December 8, 1959, two days before his twins, my mother and uncle, turned 10 years old. He served as an officer in both World War 2 and the Korean War, retiring as a Major. He then went on to study law at the University of Florida. He died suddenly, on the job, working to support the wife he adored and the children he cherished.
I never met him, but I am here because of him. Not because of the soldier, but because of the man. The man who spent his free time teaching his children how to fish and how to swim. How to pick oranges and blackberries. How to work hard and love sacrificially.
This Memorial Day, when you salute the flags and the uniforms and stand on the sidewalk at parades or in the back yard at barbecues, when you say thank you – do not salute the uniform or the ideal or the anthem. Salute the person. The man or woman who left home behind and never returned. The person who returned less than whole or who lost family and friends because of their fight, because of yet another deployment or because of all the nights they woke up screaming or drank away the nightmares.
They are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Guardsmen. They are also people, men and women with hopes and loves and dreams and aspirations, people who set all of those things aside to pick up a rifle and stand a post, to go where they were told and advance a line against strangers when what they wanted most was to see their loved ones again. To hug them and hold them and never let go. To live out there days living…without having to kill to do so.
My grandfather got that chance, albeit briefly. His last war ended and he came home, not knowing how short that time would be. But, when I begin to feel robbed that all I have of my grandfather are stories passed down and a few old photos and newspaper clippings, I remember that there were many who never even got that glimpse of tomorrow, and countless children and grandchildren who do not even have the stories.
So today, at some point between the parades and the paper plates filled with hot dogs and coleslaw, think of someone you know, someone whose mantlepiece holds a faded photograph next to a framed American flag. Remember that the flag was a person. And, if you get a chance, find someone they loved and hug their neck.