By Brandon Martin
Memorial Day is unlike any other holiday recognized in the United States.
It is a time of reflection, dedicated to the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, their families and friends.
“There is no happy Memorial Day,” retired 1st Sgt. Anthony Ybarra said during a recent service held at Roselawn Burial Park.
The words were intended as a reminder of the true cost of war.
“In preparation for my remarks, I considered all of my years in the military service and overseas,” Ybarra said. “I came to the realization that there have been a number of soldiers ━ no, friends ━ that I lost in battle. I still remember their faces. Today is a day for their honor and their remembrance.”
Ybarra reflected on the military ethos which places the mission and lives of others above oneself.
“As heartbreaking as it is to lose a soldier, the mission must continue,” he said. “As a senior leader, my job became tougher as I had to change the morale of the unit after a loss. It is only now that my numbness subsides, and their remembrance is more important than ever.”
It takes a special kind of person to make such a sacrifice,” Ybarra said.
“Military personnel are cut from a different cloth,” he added. “Regardless of whether an officer or enlisted, every military member takes an oath to defend the Constitution, and if so, give their life in its defense.”For those gathered at Roselawn who were unfamiliar with military operations, Ybarra took time in his remarks to describe the process of a deployment.
“Before every deployment, each unit will have a departure ceremony for their families to gather and spend time with each other before they get on the bus for the airport,” Ybarra said.
Contrasting the age-old military adage of “hurry up and wait,” Ybarra said “it felt like time sped up” on days of departure ceremonies.
He said the ceremonies are different for each family member. While younger children are “too young to understand what is going on,” there are often teenagers “who are surprisingly close to their parents.”
As the time winds down to the awaited hour, Ybarra said ‘you’d hear over all of these voices ‘roll call formation in 10 minutes.’
“Immediately, all noise subsides,” he said. “The young children are all rounded up, and you’d see each family unit gathered together closer. Tears are either held back or allowed to fall. The hugs get tighter, and then out of the blue ‘Fall In.’ At this moment, a soldier turns to each family member present, holds them tightly and gives them a kiss.”
After the service member has said their goodbyes, Ybarra said “the soldier walks away from everything that they love in this world to fulfill their obligation to the nation, their family and those that they will never know.”
Ybarra said that for those who don’t make the trip back home, “this will be the last time families hugged, kissed and looked upon the face of their soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.”
Although the day is important amongst veterans, Ybarra said there is a debate about how it should be recognized.
“There are some that feel that it is the saddest day of the year and want to be alone,” he said. “There are some that feel that we remember those by enjoying the day with friends and family. I’m here to say that both are right.”
The sacrifices of servicemen and women gave us the freedom to choose anyway, he added.
“Respect each other’s remembrance and together, let’s kindly teach civilians that there is no happy Memorial Day,” Ybarra said. “Many do not hold the same value of this day as we veterans and family members who have lost friends and loved ones, but they do still respect the holiday and do not have any ill intentions.” Rather than admonishing civilians who often offer the salutation of “Happy Memorial Day,” Ybarra encouraged the crowd to educate the general populace on the traditions that veterans take part in on the day.
One such tradition is the display of the POW/MIA Table. While not specific to Memorial Day, each aspect of the table symbolizes a different reason as to why the day signifies so much to so many.
The round table is indicative of the everlasting concern for the missing men and women. The white cloth symbolizes the purity of their motives when answering the call to serve. The single red rose is a reminder of the lives of these service members and their loved ones and friends who keep the faith while seeking answers. The red ribbon is a symbol of the continued determination to account for those missing. The slice of lemon is a reminder of the bitter fate of those captured and missing in a foreign land.
The pinch of salt symbolizes the tears of those missing and their families who long for answers. The lighted candle reflects the hope for the return of those service members, alive or dead. The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain them and their families. The glass is inverted, symbolizing their inability to share a toast. The chair is empty, symbolizing a seat that remains unclaimed in their absence.