Hues of orange and pink drizzled across Washington D.C.’s sunset sky, the sherbert colors dancing on the water’s surface along the Potomac River. Yet, the sky’s display of beauty did nothing to prepare for me the horror that unfolded moments later. As I walked down The Wharf on May 26, 2011, my cell phone rang, a sound that precipitated a drastic change in my understanding of Memorial Day forever.
“Hello?” I answered the unknown number quizzically.
“Hello. We activated the Care Team,” I instantly recognized the voice of our commander’s wife.
Chills erupted across my skin, deep sickness struck my gut, and shock gripped my heart. I waited breathlessly for a name, knowing this meant one of our soldiers in Afghanistan had just died.
“Christopher Thibodeau was killed today,” unbearable words she had relay.
Oh, no! Oh, no! LeeSandra! Oh, LeeSandra! I could only think of Chris’ wife and the knock on her front door.
“Can you meet the team at the family’s home?”
“I’m so sorry! I’m in Washington D.C. I’ll get on the next flight back to Ft. Hood.”
“No, it’s OK. Who are LeeSandra's closest friends? We’ll contact them to help.”
As a member of the Care Team, my responsibilities included supporting family members in the wake of a casualty. However, I was 1,489 miles away when I received the call that I prayed would never come.
Eleven years have passed since Chris’ death, but the deep sadness never ceases when I think of Chris, LeeSandra, and the baby God was knitting in her womb when the knock came. That year, Memorial Day carried with it an imperative need to remember America’s heroes in a way I never understood before Chris’ passing, a tragedy that occurred 96 hours earlier. Memorial Day was no longer another four-day weekend filled with warm weather barbeques; there were real faces attached to this day now.
Chris’ sacrifice for our nation is joined by over 1.1 million American soldiers who have paid the ultimate price. (This number does not include deaths related to war, such as veteran suicide and those who passed away from war-related illnesses.) May we never forget our soldiers who have died in the name of freedom—our freedom. Will you join me in paying respect to the fallen men and women of the armed forces and remembering the sacrifices of their loved ones?
Here are 21 ways we can make Memorial Day matter.
1. Perform an act of kindness in memory of a fallen soldier.
2. Read Memorial Day books to your children. Find books at your local library or type in “Memorial Day Books” on YouTube to watch read-aloud versions.
3. Listen to Ronald Regan’s Memorial Day address from 1986.
4. Watch a related documentary or film.
5. Visit a war memorial.
6. Attend a local Memorial Day event.
7. Interview a veteran about Memorial Day.
8. Raise money to donate to a Gold Star organization.
9. Visit a national cemetery.
10. Purchase a military memorial bracelet.
11. Line your driveway with small American flags.
12. Pray for Gold Star Families.
13. Call, video chat, or visit a Gold Star Family.
14. Watch PBS’ National Memorial Day Concert on May 29, 2022.
15. Listen to a Memorial Day story on storycorps.com.
16. Create patriotic chalk art.
17. Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 PM local time.
18. Donate flowers at your local cemetery or through memorialdayflowers.org.
19. Participate in a Memorial Day run, such as Wear Blue: Run to Remember.
20. Tour a battlefield site.
21. Take a walk on a National Historic Trail.
As we prepare to remember America’s fallen this Memorial Day, I want to leave you with LeeSandra’s advice. She told me that when Chris came home for R & R, one month before his death, he wanted to “go out and see people being happy and doing normal things—something that brought him so much joy.” LeeSandra suggests we celebrate life on Memorial Day by exploring a museum, going on a hike, having a barbeque with friends and family, or cleaning up our neighborhoods. However we choose to spend Memorial Day this year, let’s make it matter.