Monday is Memorial Day.
For most Americans, it’s just another three-day weekend.
It signals the end of the spring semester and graduation for some. It means you have to get serious about lawn care and public swimming pools officially open. Gas prices go up because of vacation travel and government-mandated gasoline blending. Teens start summer jobs (at least some do) and homeowners crank up the air conditioning.
But what is Memorial Day? How is it different than Veterans Day?
Memorial Day is a federally recognized holiday in which Americans are supposed to recognize those people who died while serving in our military. Veterans Day is meant to celebrate the service of all who served in the military – living and dead. Veterans Day is always November 11.
It is observed on the last Monday of May.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day after the Civil War as Americans sought to remember the sacrifice of Union and Confederate soldiers during that bloody conflict.
Traditionally, families go to cemeteries to remember and honor those who have died – including those who served in the military but didn’t die in combat and even those who didn’t serve in the military at all.
My grandfather, Thomas Biggs, served in World War I in the U.S. Navy. He survived that conflict (if he had not, I might not be here). He died in his seventies 1962 when I was 8 years old and I barely remember him.
I don’t know any details of his service. He and my grandmother, Ona Biggs, are buried in Republican, Arkansas (near Greenbriar in Central Arkansas). I have visited their graves but never on Memorial Day. That same cemetery has my great grandfather, who was a veteran of the Civil War.
My grandmother told me once that if I went into the military, don’t pick the Navy because if your ship is sunk, your body would be lost at sea and you wouldn’t have a proper burial.
My father, Harley Biggs, was drafted into the Army during World War II and served under Gen. George Patton in Europe. He helped defeat Germany and save the world.
He was wounded in combat but survived (again, I wouldn’t be here had he been killed by the Germans).
After spending the last few years of his life in the Veterans Center in Claremore, he passed in 1997 at the age of 77.
Dad never spoke much about his experience during the war. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a 21-year-old farm boy from Arkansas traveling five thousand miles to an unknown continent to fight against a country trying to take over the world.
He risked his life so his family could live in peace.
My brother, Thomas Biggs, enlisted in the Navy and left with a medical discharge. He never saw combat but he battled several medical conditions before he died in 2002.
Dad and Tom are buried side by side in Floral Haven Cemetery in Broken Arrow. Floral Haven does a wonderful job with Memorial Day and this year, U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, a veteran, will speak at the Annual Memorial Day Ceremony and Avenue of Flags.
I never had the pleasure of serving our nation in the military. My brothers Bill Biggs and Ben Campbell did serve (both are still with us).
As far as I know, my family survived every war we entered. Thank God for that.
My son Brian is a sergeant in the Oklahoma National Guard who served overseas in Kuwait. He was spared direct combat but he was in the middle of a hot spot (both from a military standpoint and in terms of temperature) and his life was at risk. He and his fellow “weekend warriors” still stand between order and chaos and stand ready to help in any emergency – man-made or natural – that could strike Oklahoma.
So, this Memorial Day, my family and I will go to the cemetery and lay flowers at the site our fallen loved ones. It is a sad time because we are separated from them but there is great joy because we will someday be reunited with them in Heaven.
Their willingness to sacrifice has made life safer and better for everyone in the United States of America.