Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

May 25, 2013

OPINION: On Memorial Day, remember the ones left behind

Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, spouses and children all will spend their final days with huge holes in their hearts

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE —

For many Americans, the three-day Memorial Day weekend signals the kick-off of the summer season, or maybe it's the perfect time to score some great deals if they're looking for a car/household appliances/furniture.

For a more select group, however – a group of folks who would do just about anything in their power to NOT claim a membership that was forced on them – Memorial Day is that time when the country officially pauses to remember the men and women who died in military service to their country. Men and women who were someone's beloved parent, sibling, spouse.

According to the website www.usmemorialday.org, on May 5, 1868, General John Logan – national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a general order proclaiming Memorial Day “designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion … posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

The state of New York was the first – in 1873 – to recognize the holiday, and by 1890, the northern states of the United States recognized it as well, the site said. Over the years, other parts of the country embraced the custom, now celebrated on the last Monday of May, thanks to the National Holiday Act passed by Congress in 1971.

As part of a large, Hispanic family with strong a military tradition, Memorial Day has a bit of a deeper meaning to our family because of the men and women who have served wholeheartedly over three generations. But it wasn’t until several years ago that it gained a very real face: That of a little boy with huge green eyes, endearingly large ears and a wide, lovely smile who couldn’t wait for the day to be a soldier like his mama and daddy.

Willy was the first of his particular generation in our particular branch of the Flores family to enlist in the military. It really didn't come as a surprise, however, because after all, his Grandpa Mo was a retired Air Force sergeant and his parents – Vicky and Wilfred Sr. – were retired Army sergeants. Military tradition ran strong in that boy's blood; I like to think its shade as Army green.

His favorite game as a child? Playing Army. His life goals as a sixth grader? To be career Army, then after getting in his 20, retiring from the service, then hitting the comedy club circuit because he thought a career as a comedian would be fun. And until he could actually become a member of his beloved Army, he prepared for his career by joining the Jr. ROTC program offered at his Lawton, Okla., high school.

Willy served two years, including a tour in Iraq. While he didn't particularly care for being there, he assured his parents that he loved his job …

On March 31, 2007, the family's world was up-ended: Corporal Wilfred Flores Jr., a member of the Army’s 10th Mountain out of Fort Drum, NY, was fatally wounded by an an improvised explosive device that had detonated near his vehicle as he and his squad patrolled the area around Bagdad, Iraq. He was two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

His fellow Commando Brigade soldier, Staff Sgt. Jason R. Arnett of Amelia, Va., four years his senior, died the following day from injuries sustained during that same explosion.

I confess that I still cry when I see his photo or when I think about him, but those tears are as much for my brother and his wife and their daughter, because I can't imagine how painful it is to go about life without your only son, without your only brother in it.

That's why for families like ours, Memorial Day is such an important holiday: Because for a little while, people across the country not only remember the fallen, but their families, too. Especially their families.

So while you’re celebrating the three-day weekend, offer a 'thank you' for those men and women who didn’t make it home from their last assignment … it's the very least you can do to recognize them for their ultimate offering as member of our armed forces.

And then, remember the ones they left behind: The moms and dads, the brothers and sisters, the spouses and children who will spend their final days with huge holes in their hearts — holes created by the loss of their loved ones.

Because Memorial Day also is about honoring these families, who, through no choice of their own, made an ultimate sacrifice.