As a child, Memorial Day signaled to me that summer was just around the corner and the long school year was nearly over. On that holiday morning every year I would always step out on my front porch and look to the sky, in hopes there would be at least glimmer of sun. Growing up, in the Seattle region, that was about a 50-50 prospect. For us Seattleites, I knew the day would be filled with a family celebration if there was even a hint of blue in the sky. There would be a barbeque, followed by swimming in either in our backyard heated pool or at my grandparent’s Lake Tapps home. I would be playing with cousins either from one side of the family or the other. The day would end with homemade ice cream made by my Grandpa Posey or Smores from the campfire built by my Grandpa Grager to close out what was always a fantastic day!
Both of my grandfathers served in the Air Force, Grandpa Grager, in Iceland and Grandpa Posey in Germany. I had seen their military photos many times displayed proudly in their homes.
On Memorial Day, an American Flag would always fly in front of our house and both grandparent homes. Our Memorial Day table linens and paper supplies were usually red, white and blue so I had a vague idea what Memorial Weekend was about, but never fully understood the magnitude of the holiday until my Grandpa Posey, died suddenly on May 17, 2005. Our family had moved to California a couple years earlier and at the time my grandfather passed away it wasn’t possible for my family to immediately travel up to Seattle for a funeral or memorial service. My two older brothers had college finals coming up within a week. My father was working on a couple significant project deadlines at work and my mother was coordinating a huge PR campaign involving one of her clients. In addition to our unavailability for quick travel, our family minister (One of my grandfather’s best friends) was planning to leave on a cruise that he and his wife had booked 6 months earlier and had to postpone once already due to illness. Our minister had his heart set on officiating the service. Not wishing to exclude our family or our minister from my grandfather’s memorial service, my Grandma Posey found herself with only one date option, she had to schedule the service for Memorial Day.
When my Grandmother, notified the Air Force that she would like to request a color guard for a military service in my grandfather’s honor she expected to hear back that it wasn’t possible because of the holiday. Grandma, emailed her extended family and friends reiterating that their attendance was very welcome at Grandpa Posey’s memorial service and would be very appreciated, but that my grandfather would never expect anyone to give up a happy family day or celebration to attend a funeral or memorial service in his honor and she didn’t expect that either.
Memorial Day arrived and I dreaded having to attend my grandfather’s service. I loved him so dearly and hated the thought of saying good-bye. We grandchildren were all overwhelmed with sadness at losing such a loving, kind and intelligent force from our lives. My grandmother planned a beautiful service. I felt my heart tighten when I walked into the sanctuary and saw the alter filled with red, white and blue flowers. The photo of my grandfather in his Air Force uniform beaming with handsome youthfulness, made me tear up. How many times had I seen that photo when he was alive? Now, on this day, I noticed his handsome youthfulness. He was just a boy of only 19!
Just prior to the service, I saw my grandmother scurry from where she was seated at the front of the church to greet, the color guard she had requested. Not only did the Air Force send three young cadets, they sent a bugler too. They apologized for being slightly late in arriving, but had trouble finding the church as they came from 75 miles away to present the colors and weren’t familiar with the region. I remember thinking how handsome they looked in their full dress uniforms. I had never seen a color guard present before. My grandmother was so pleased and thanked them for giving up their holiday to participate in the service and they told her it was their honor. They said there was no better way for them to spend their holiday than honoring a veteran. My grandfather had stood honor guard to President Eisenhower and they commented on how amazing that was to my mother.
I watched as the church filled to capacity and as the ushers had to bring in extra chairs to seat all the people, I could see how touched my mother and her children were at the sight of them. His former Little League Baseball players attended. Aunt and former school teacher and her children were there to tell stories during the service. Former neighbors, classmates, and various family members also shared wonderful stories about my grandfather’s life and of his patriotism. At the end of the service, the bugler blew Taps as the color guard presented the flag. It was very emotional and beautiful, but when our family friend and violinist started to play a solo of my grandfather’s favorite, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as the flag was folded, the entire church felt the emotion of it. The young cadets knelt before my grandmother and thanked her for the contribution she made to our country and presented her with the flag. Grandma’s shoulders started to shake and looking back I realize how bittersweet that moment must have been be both in honor and sorrow. I think about all the mothers and wives who have received our flag from a young cadet throughout history and I’m humbled by their sacrifice.
I love celebrating Memorial Day even more as a young woman. I still step out my door to look towards the morning sky, but it doesn’t matter if the sun is shining up above, because it’s shining in my heart. I visualize both my grandfathers soaring in the Heavens and I’m filled with love and pride!
Until next time,
Joell Posey Grager,