She asked what they do in America to commemorate it -- here in Israel, it's an extremely solemn day, with a nighttime and morning one minute long siren blast across the country, public eateries are closed, movie theaters are closed, all radio channels have reserved music, and most of the country is united in pain, remembrance and comforting the families of those who fought for Israel.
It was difficult, almost embarrassing to tell my daughter that for the majority of Americans, Memorial Day is mostly about shopping sales and a long vacation weekend. While there are some memorial ceremonies, the vast majority of Americans do not attend them.
The least I could do this Memorial Day, as an Israeli-American living in Israel, was to spend a few minutes writing about the sacrifice of America's soldiers and veterans -- and their families.
So how would I Google search for a picture? The obvious choice for me would be Arlington Memorial Cemetery. I was looking for of a photo of the solemn, seemingly endless rows of simple tombstones of America's soldiers. Yet while searching for the perfect blog picture, the photo (pictured above) hit me first. Taken last year at Arlington, Mary McHugh lies before the tombstone of her fiance.
I don't think she's running out to a sale or barbecue.
Perhaps America needs a national moment of silence and a wailing siren similar to Israel.
The beauty and serenity of Virginia’s rolling hills and awe inspiring views of Washington D.C. clash with today’s reality of national loss, where grief is raw and in your face. You step over grass sods still taking root over freshly dug graves. You watch a mother kiss her son’s tombstone. Two soldiers put flowers and a cold beer next to the grave of a fallen buddy. A young son left a hand-written note for his dad. “I hope you like Heven, hope you liked Virginia very much hope you like the Holidays. I also see you every Sunday. Please write back!”
Section 60 is not about a troop surge or a war spending bill or whether we should be fighting these wars at all. It is about ordinary people trying to get through something so hard that most of us can’t ever imagine it. Everyone I met that afternoon had a gut-wrenching story to tell.
Mary McHugh is one of those people. She sat in front of the grave of her fiance James “Jimmy” Regan, talking to the stone. She spoke in broken sentences between sobs, gesturing with her hands, sometimes pausing as if she was trying to explain, with so much left needed to say.
Later on, after she spoke with a fellow mourner from a neighboring grave, I went over and introduced myself and told her I was photographing for Getty Images and had brought my family on our own pilgrimage to the site. I told her we had been living in Pakistan for the last few years, how we had come back to the States for a few months for the birth of our second child.
Mary told me about her slain fiance Jimmy Regan. Clearly, she had not only loved him but truly admired him. When he graduated from Duke, he decided to enlist in the Army to serve his country. He chose not to be an officer, though he could have been, because he didn’t want to risk a desk job. Instead, he became an Army Ranger and was sent twice to Aghanistan and Iraq - an incredible four deployments in just three years. He was killed in Iraq this February by a roadside bomb.
Mary said that they had planned to get married after Jimmy’s four years of service were up next year. “We loved each other so much,” she said. “We thought we had all of the time in the world.”
After a few moments more, my beautiful wife, Gretchen, now almost 9 months pregnant, walked over with our two-year-old Isabella. Our daughter started climbing over me, saying “daddy” in my ear and pulling on my arm to come walk with her. I felt awkward and guilty about the contrast, but if Mary felt it too, she was nothing but gracious and friendly. I told her that I would forward her some photos of her from that day if she would like and she gave me her email address. We said our goodbyes and I moved on with my family through the sea of graves.
Later on, I passed by and she was lying in the grass sobbing, speaking softly to the stone, this time her face close to the cold marble, as if whispering into Jimmy’s ear.
Some people feel the photo I took at the moment was too intimate, too personal. Like many who have seen the picture, I felt overwhelmed by her grief, and moved by the love she felt for her fallen sweetheart.
After so much time covering these wars, I have some difficult memories and have seen some of the worst a person can see - so much hatred and rage, so much despair and sadness. All that destruction, so much killing. And now, one beautiful and terribly sad spring afternoon amongst the rows and rows of marble stones - a young woman’s lost love.I felt I owed the Arlington National Cemetery a little time - and I think I still do. Maybe we all do. (John Moore/Getty Image News Blog, Memorial Day 2007)
If you don't appreciate the sacrifice of your country's sons and daughters, do you really deserve the shopping sale?
Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד