Yesterday at work we had a moment of down time. As we sat together talking someone asked about my evening plans, I told them of my plans to leave work and head to my parent’s home for a barbeque and Watchfire. “What is that?” someone asked, having heard of the annual fire at the state fairgrounds, often advertised solely as an opportunity to burn old tattered flags, and drink, watching a large blaze.
It is actually quite more I explained. A tradition begun in the Civil War, a practice put in place following long battles, a large fire was lit as a beacon to help stranded or lost soldiers find their way back to their army, to safety. In later years, these fires were continued as a show of support of those left behind. Finally, after the Vietnam war, these fires continued as a symbol to bring home Prisoners of War, left behind. From as long as I could remember this symbol, this watch fire was an integral part of the recognition of Memorial Day.
“What are you, some kind of history buff?” one of my work girls asked.
No, I am no history buff. I do however come from a long line of militarily involved family. From my Great Great grandfather, my Granfathers on both sides, my dad, and now three of my cousins. I am blessed with being from a family to which the service of our country and the significance of this charge was never belittled, never disrespected.
Because of this, Memorial Day is a personal and special holiday. Often confused with November’s Veterans Day, today is different. Today is about those who have given the ultimate service, gone to war for our country and our freedom and never returned. Those lives lost in service to our country and what we stand for.
For my dad, my cousins, and others I know in the military this day is not about abstract loss, but the loss of friends, of brothers, a feeling I hope to never fully understand. I grew up going to a Watchfire with my dad’s Vietnam Veterans group. In the years following that we have in a way observed our own Watchfire at home in my parent’s yard. My dad always instilled in me the importance of this practice, and of what this day represents.
Today is about more than the beginning of summer. About more than those who have chosen to serve our country (although they alone deserve more recognitions than they get). It isn’t about politics or personal agendas. It is simply about a service greater than I am willing to give, and those that have, and in doing so have lost their lives.
So this summer, as you sit around fires with marshmallows and chocolate, hot dogs and laughter, take a moment to remember those who never came home. Take a moment this summer and have a Watchfire of your own. I will be doing the same.