As a 7 or 8 or 9-year-old kid I used to play at the large veterans complex called Woods, Wisconsin or more commonly, "Soldiers Home" in the West Milwaukee-West Allis area. We found many thngs to explore and discover on those huge grounds. We ventured through storm sewers, looked in mysterious buildings, and just wandered around. We also had many opportunities to interact with the military veterans there. Some of the vets were suffering physical ailments and disabilities, some were obviously dealing with serious and long-lasting mental problems. But I remember it generally as a positive experience. As a street urchin who was totally left to his own resources at 8 years, I had a safe place to play at Soldiers Home. Each Memorial Day I would watch the special events there, often from the bleachers at the baseball field. On my own, I developed a great respect for our veterans.
Many years later, and far more currently, I was driving through Soldiers Home on a sort of remembrance visit. Many things have changed, many have not. As I drove through the huge veterans cemetary with the thousands of white crosses, I was startled as I came upon a young woman spread out, lying face down, crying uncontrollably on the grave mound in front of one of those white crosses. A baby stroller was next to her with a little child just months old. I stopped and surveyed the heart-wrenching scene. I got out of my car and walked toward her. I awkwardly asked her if I could be of any help. Sprawled out on that grave face down, she turned and looked up at me, tears streaming down her cheeks. She shook her head. The baby started crying. I asked her if I could take the baby in my arms and walk around close-by so she could see me with him, and remain silently with her loved one. She nodded affirmatively. I picked up the baby, and walked in a circle around the grave from about 15 yards or so away from her.
I noticed that she had stopped her sobbing and was more silently "communicating" with her loved one buried there. She was still crying but not as vehemently. The baby smiled as I kissed his nose and made funny faces to him, oblivious to the utter torment his young mother was experiencing.
After awhile, she sat up, got a handkerchief from her purse, wiped her eyes, and put out her arms inviting me to return the baby. I did. She thanked me. I kissed her hand and went on my way.
There are a million ways you can honor our veterans this Memorial Day. You know what they are. Don't overlook some simple niceties and some little kindnesses. Ponder. Reflect. Remember. And do not forget the great things these men and women have done in your stead and for you and me.