Friday, May 26, 2017

An Experience To Remember

I take issue with the phrase Happy Memorial Day because there is little 'happy' about it. It's a time to honor our fallen military men and women and to honor those who have served and still serve today. I was reminded of a wonderful experience Ken and I had a number of years ago during the Iraq War. Today, as we head into Memorial Day weekend, I am sharing it with you. Enjoy your family and friends this weekend but remember what it is we are to remember.

Patriotism On Parade

By Nancy Julien Kopp

The hotel ballroom buzzed with music, conversation, and laughter. Military dress uniforms and ball gowns added to the festive air of the evening. My husband, Ken, and I were the only civilians out of more than four hundred attending the Kodiak Ball honoring the 70th Engineer Battalion. The men and women in the battalion, stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, returned only weeks earlier after serving a full year in Iraq. On this night, they gathered with spouses and dates to celebrate their homecoming, their survival, and the joy of being an American.

The soldiers requested that our church send someone to receive thanks and appreciation for the support of one company within the battalion, and we were pleased to be the representatives from St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. The congregation adopted Charlie Company upon their deployment in March of 2003. For the year they served in Iraq, members of the church mailed letters, birthday cards, and packages to the men who soon became “our soldiers.” We sent Christmas cards to the nearly one hundred members of Charlie Company, kept them in our prayers, and eagerly waited news about them. Members dropped monetary donations into a pair of shiny Army boots placed in the narthex of the church. The money allowed items like socks and other necessities along with some little touches of home like gum and candies to be shipped overseas. A line of love and pride between the members of the church and the soldiers grew strong and steady as the year progressed.

Tonight both the battalion commander and commander of Charlie Company greeted us. They clasped our hands and thanked us for all the support they’d received. Both men spoke with sincerity that was further mirrored in their eyes and warm handshake. From then on, other soldiers and spouses approached us, introduced themselves as members of Charlie Company, and offered us heartfelt thanks and appreciation for all the church members had done for them. One officer remarked, “We expect support from our families, but when it comes from perfect strangers, it means a great deal to us.” Another commented that the caring and concern shown them seemed almost overwhelming at times, but it made their job easier knowing people at home supported them.

With each introduction and conversation, my pride in our country and the men who served in her armed forces grew steadily stronger. I marveled at the many men and women who volunteered to serve their country. No draft board tapped them on the shoulder and handed them marching orders. These soldiers chose to serve with a pride, love, and belief in America.

The evening provided many emotional moments including a Table Of Remembrance ceremony to honor fallen comrades. The ballroom lights dimmed, and a spotlight centered on a table set for one. A soldier’s solemn voice related the symbolism of each item on the table in a somber tribute. A moment of silence followed, a moment needed by many to swallow the lump in the throat and wipe away a fallen tear.

Two movie screens placed at opposite sides of the ballroom flashed pictures of the 70th Engineer Battalion going about their everyday jobs in Iraq. Poignant as well as humorous moments captured on film showed a side of the military not often reported in newspapers. These were Americans who had a sensitive side, could put a comic slant on serious moments, and portrayed a fine work ethic learned in various parts of America during their growing-up years.

After dinner, the battalion commander asked Ken and I to come forward to accept a framed Certificate of Appreciation for the church. The soldiers offered us a standing ovation. We returned to our table with cheers and applause ringing in our ears. Never have I felt so much appreciation, warmth, and pleasure.

No matter what one feels about the right or wrong of the war in Iraq, be proud of the men and women who answered the call to represent America. They are your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. Support them in every possible way. Before this special evening ended, it was our turn to voice heartfelt thanks to the soldiers and their families. We spoke for many Americans as we expressed our appreciation for their service.

A full moon lit the way to our car. I told my husband that this would be a night we would long remember. It wasn’t only the moon that was glowing tonight.

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