I love to travel.
My children never knew a vacation without frequent stops at historic markers. Other dads were taking their kids to the beach and the mountains and Disney World. I did, too. But we stopped at a lot of cemeteries and memorials along the way.
I hope some of it took. You never know with kids. They are not always real open about their thoughts.
Once we traveled to Massachusetts in March. We were looking at a particular marker when a grand snowball fight broke out. I had taken about 50 eighth-graders with us on this particular vacation. (Yes, there is often snow on the ground in Massachusetts in March.)
The marker we were visiting was inscribed with the name Jonas Parker. He was born in 1723 to Andrew and Sarah Whitney Parker. I am sure they loved their son very much. He had a twin brother named Amos and they had a younger sibling, Thomas.
Parker also had a wife and one child, who was given the Biblical name Philemon. He was 20 when his dad passed away.
It makes you think about all the identities one person can have concurrently in life. Son (or daughter, since we are now talking hypothetically), father (or mother), husband, (or wife) brother or sister. We could throw friend in there, too. I have friends who are as close as family. I’m sure Jonas Parker did, too.
I am absolutely certain that my children remember the impromptu snowball fight that broke out on that village green in Lexington, Mass., the day we visited Jonas Parker, but I hope that somewhere, deep inside them, they appreciate what he did for them, what he did for all of us.
On another vacation we went to Hawaii. Now that was a great trip. One morning two old hippies in a battered van picked us up at our hotel on Maui and drove us to the top of a mountain. Haleakala. The idea was to watch the sun come up from the summit, 10,000 feet above the nearby Pacific Ocean. All we saw from the summit was fog, but we got on bicycles and rode all the way down to the sea, itself. Twenty-four miles. Magnificent.
We saw whales in Hawaii and swam in giant surf and watched a hula show and walked on an active volcano.
But we also went to a U.S. Naval base and took a launch out to a memorial built over a sunken battleship. We learned that more than 1,000 sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and friends were interred at the bottom of that particular harbor. Later that same day, we went to a place called the Punch Bowl and saw row after row of crosses — and a few stars of David — all with a common date engraved on them. Dec. 7, 1941.
On another vacation we went to Washington, D.C. and I took my children to visit a black granite wall engraved with 56,000 names. We did etchings of a couple. One name on that wall was Robert Anthony Piper. He went by Tony. He and I graduated high school together, 50 years ago this week. Another was Danny Jo Richardson, a Porterdale boy, like me. Danny Jo graduated with my sister.
Tony died through hostile action, small arms fire on July 31, 1971 in South Vietnam, Quang Tin province. Danny Jo Richardson U.S. Army Specialist 4th class, was killed in action by a grenade explosion on April 3rd, 1968 at Binh Dinh, South Vietnam.
My kids have seen so many other memorials and markers commemorating those whose supreme sacrifice made it possible for me and my family to live freely in this country, earn a living, and travel across this great land.
Jonas Parker, you see, was the very first American soldier to lay his life upon the Altar of Freedom. Almost a million others have done so since, including my friends, Tony and Danny Jo.
Monday is the day set aside to collectively honor all of them.
You know, a lot of people don’t know the difference in Memorial Day and Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day and, quite frankly, the Fourth of July. But there is a difference.
All those days are important and appropriate, and there is never a wrong time to thank a soldier or veteran for serving our country.
But each of us is only given one life to live, and Monday is the day we honor those who gave theirs for our collective freedom. What a precious gift. I pray that my children, my grandchildren and my grandchildren’s grandchildren will always remember their sacrifices and do whatever is necessary to protect the freedom so dearly purchased.