Memorial Day is always a special holiday around here. Economically, it’s the first “big weekend,” as tourists flock here to spend the first warm long holiday weekend outdoors. But that’s not why it’s noteworthy to us. It’s the real reason for the holiday. As you drive around the area, you’ll pass a number of small cemeteries. They’re festooned with flags near the gravestones, each one of them marking the resting place of a veteran. There’s a surprisingly high number of them – surprising, that is, if you don’t live here.
The Adirondacks are mountainous, rural, and most of the natives are poor. For generations, many young men – and now young women – went off to serve their country in uniform. It could have been because there was a war, they were drafted, sought a chance to get an education, or they just wanted the opportunity to see the world. For whatever reason, they came down from the mountains, put on a uniform, and went off to other places. Most of them returned, and settled into raising families. At the end, they were sent off to their final rest with an honor guard, taps, and 21 gun salute.
Scattered among those graves with flags are a few that are the reason for this holiday. They also came down from the mountains and went off to war. But unlike the others, they returned in a box, having fallen in battle. These are small communities, and the loss of these young men hurt everyone. They were friends, neighbors, cousins, brothers. We knew them growing up, we knew their families. The day the notification team came to the door was a shock to everyone. They were a reminder to us all that there is a terrible price to be paid for freedom.
Today is their day, the day we remember them. Those of us who served, those of us who loved them, we remember them and all the others who now lie in eternal rest beneath the mountains they left for a time. Still the young come down from the mountains and go off to war – it’s what we do. We know that there the chance is there that another one will not return to grow old. We hope that it will not happen. But if it does, they will always be remembered. That is why this is a special day.