Memorial Day, a day of deep reflection. Therefore, also a time and reason to share. It is proper on this day to dignify the memories of men and women in service to the Armed Forces of the United States who gave the ultimate sacrifice while in service to our country. Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, siblings.
For the past three years I have served on the West Side Memorial Day Parade scholarship committee. The scholarship is open to high school seniors within the South Bend Community School Corp. that will be attending college. One part of the application is an essay. The essay is “What Memorial Day Means to Me.”
While reading the essays this year, what struck me most was the mention of family. Memories of family picnics, family cookouts and yes, the West Side Memorial Day Parade. Most applicants also share stories about family members who are serving or had served in the military. The essays submitted are stirring and very personal.
As a veteran of foreign war, I, too, have a story. His name is Staff Sergeant Allen. We were deployed together during “Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.” One of my additional duties was serving as the company clerk. My original MOS (military occupation code) was a 72E (telecommunications center operator). One of my duties as company clerk was picking up mail. This required occasional trips to Khobar Towers, a housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The company clerk was a popular person when returning from the long drive to deliver and hand out packages and letters to loved ones from home.
I will never forget delivering Allen’s first letter from his daughter. She drew him a picture that brightened his day. He showed it to everyone! His face would just light up when he talked about her. Allen was so incredibly happy even in the face of our living conditions. He was always upbeat and well-liked by everyone. You could talk to him about anything. We all missed home and Allen always had a way to make you feel better. Sadly, it was only a few days after his daughter’s picture arrived when the war took him from us, and we were packing his belongings to send home.
One of the saddest memories of my life was standing at attention during the field ceremony for him. I can still see his boots, along with the three rifles stacked at an angle and his helmet on top. All I could think of was the picture from his daughter, received only a few days earlier.
I still make it a point to this day to remember him every year on Memorial Day. His name was printed in the Stars and Stripes along with all the men and women who didn’t make it back home. I still have the magazine, torn and a little worn out. It is stored in a trunk I had shipped home from Saudi Arabia. I look his name up and a flood of memories always return.
Memorial Day is about honoring those that made the ultimate sacrifice for God and country. Never forgetting our men and women who gave so much in the name of the United States of America. Lastly, let us never forget about the families left with an empty chair at the table. Respect, sacrifice, love of country and family. This is what Memorial Day means to me. Our memories and shared experiences are the glue that bind us all to this day of remembrance.
Sheila Niezgodski is a member of the South Bend Common Council, representing the 6th District.
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Memorial Day means respect, sacrifice, love of country, family.