I still have vivid memories of the day I went to the Sonoma County Courthouse to register for the selective service. The invasion of Granada and the Falklands War were fresh on my mind, President Ronald Reagan was dealing with the Soviet Union’s nuclear missile tests and their continued pressure into Eastern Europe and Afghanistan. The 1984 Summer Olympics was being boycotted by many Eastern Bloc countries in protest for the West’s boycott of the 1980 games in Moscow. The apartheid battles in southern Africa were becoming international concerns. There was talk on TV of reinitiating the draft in America due to low volunteer turnout. I was 18 years old, and planning to start college in the fall. This is the first time I remember being truly aware that kids like me have fought and sacrificed for our freedoms for generations. I signed the form, and felt a pit in my stomach.
My grandfather was drafted into the Navy for WWII, as was my stepfather in Vietnam. To me being drafted into the military only happened for “big” wars, the kind I thought we did not have anymore. Like most Americans I enjoyed the comfort and distance provided from a volunteer military. Lives were lost, Americans were being injured in conflicts around the globe but they had no direct connection to me. Memorial Day weekend was mostly a big, fun kickoff for summer with my friends.
Moving to Yuba County five years ago, I was immediately struck by the strong community connection to Beale Air Force Base. So many of our staff grew up in Air Force families, had served in the military or have children enlisted in active duty. There is a very tangible connection to the conflict of war in this little community. The U2 Dragon Lady and Global Hawk drones fly day and night over my home in Browns Valley. Young men and women in uniform are a normal part of my queue at Starbucks; we serve their families in our health centers. The servicemen and women at Beale are involved in or supporting those in active military conflicts every day, yet they pump their gas next to me in Marysville. Memorial Day gets more meaningful for me every year thanks to these experiences.
I have two daughters who coincidentally both fell in love with great young men who chose to enlist in the military after completing high school. They both start basic training in less than a month; one in the Navy, the other in the Army. I can see the mixed emotions on the faces of these young people as their ship day draws near. Fear, excitement, loss and adventure are what we will be talking about this Memorial Day weekend. I honor these men and their choice to serve, and I honor my girls for being so supportive and strong in the face of their departure. Several members of Peach Tree’s leadership team have recently watched their sons leave for boot camp and return as soldiers. Each one of these mothers is proud of their sons’ decisions, and deal with the fear of loss with amazing grace.
This weekend, take a moment to reflect on your connection to those that are now defending our country and our allies around the globe today. Think about your connection to the many that served before them and how their personal sacrifices helped shape your life. I would bet anything you are more closely connected than you may realize. Happy Memorial Day.