When Every Day Is Memorial Day

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I do not write this to make anyone feel guilty for saying “HAPPY Memorial Day!” (But please, don’t do that.) I don’t want anyone cringing because maybe they’ve said the wrong thing or been oblivious to the true, deep meaning of this holiday.

I was once there. I was once you. I didn’t do or say things out of callousness, I just didn’t know any better.

Most people in America today are getting ready for the long weekend, excited about plans, hoping for good weather, getting those last minute BBQ items. And that’s fine. We SHOULD enjoy our off times. We SHOULD enjoy our friends & family.

Then there was war and we started losing people we knew, people Frank flew with and it took a different meaning. I was in Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day in 2010, a month after Frank returned safely from Afghanistan. Westboro Baptist Church was protesting on one side of the entrance. Frank said “If we didn’t have kids with us, I’d be willing to go to jail today.” The cemetery was a hard reality that day. Parents placing flowers on sons’ graves. Wives sitting in chairs at the foot of gravestones. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to see it. Because I knew it could have been me. I was thankful we escaped it.

Memorial Day fell out of my mind.

Nineteen months later I got The Knock. We had, tragically, NOT escaped it. And in a chapel decorated for Christmas, with my family and friends I sat like a statue at the 21 gun salute.
When the colonel handed me the flag that was folded on my Frank’s coffin, my then 6-year0-old son kept asking his uncle “What’s in that box? Is that my dad’s skeleton in there??” My 10-year-old daughter sat clinging to my hand. My two other tiny sons were at home, too little to understand. I, myself, in those early days, had yet to even begin to understand. 
The memorial days started.

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It’s been a weary, winding, up and down, breathless, nonstop road of grieving these last two years and five months. 891 days, to be exact.

Without Frank.

And we’ve learned. We’re still learning. This will continue to change and shape us for the rest of our lives.

Last week I was in Washington, D.C. and during a late night walk through the Vietnam Wall Memorial, I picked up a flower with a laminated sheet of paper attached to it. A widow had left it for the husband she lost 40 years ago. It was a touching letter from a woman, widowed young, who had the courage to move forward but the pain of loss was in every word. Forty years later she was still leaving him a flower. The heaviness of life-long grief sat with me that night. Because EVERY day is Memorial Day. And I don’t want it to be.

This is our third Memorial Day since our world changed. On our first, in 2012, Frank’s name was added to the War Memorial in Dupont, Wa. We had not yet buried him anywhere, so that was the first time we were seeing his name, etched in stone, with an end date. It still didn’t seem real. And at times, that feeling remains.

On THAT Memorial Day, we had gained a new perspective. And I realized I had a new duty. To share him. To keep him alive in memories. To make sure the world knew this burden. I can’t keep it to myself. I can’t let my children shoulder it  all either. They already carry so much. Our country sets aside just this one day a year to honor our fallen.

Some of you don’t get it though. We are not all afforded a long, long life. This holiday is not about thanking veterans, or sales or <insert all the things we do on long summer weekend>.

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After our second Memorial Day, last June, on a sunny Colorado morning, we buried Frank’s ashes in our hometown. I rode to the cemetery with his Army issued box of ashes on my lap. That was a six-foot tall, 200 pound man with a larger than life personality. In a wooden box on my small lap.

I will never forget that ride. Or the preciousness of shoveling the dirt over that box with his mother. Or the terrible feeling of just the kids and I standing there at his headstone. Nothing will ever be right about that. Their daddy hadn’t hugged them in 18.5 months by that point. These things are all frozen in memory. Those memorial days.

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As this Memorial Day approaches, I have a steadily increasing anxiety creeping up inside me. There is so much pressure to participate in ALL THE THINGS. Yet there is a part of me that wants to run off for the weekend and hide away until the rest of the world is done with their ONE Memorial Day. Because when EVERY day is Memorial Day for you it gets overwhelming when everyone else gets on board.

But I think about the little boy who was born in Germany to Frank and Silvia, who liked to ride his bike fast and sing “Eye of The Tiger” to himself to ride faster and faster. The little boy who grew up to be a soldier, a husband, a daddy and a combat pilot. The little boy who grew up and his life ended in service of his country at 36-years-old. He had little boys and a little girl of his own. And I tuck them in all by myself every night and I tell them stories about him and laugh at memories of him with them. I share his stories with the people I know and people I meet. I push forward and do things to honor him and remember him well.

I remember with an ache in my heart that will ALWAYS be there, the years before every day was a memorial day.

I share these things with you to remind you that there are people who move along every day that are carrying the weight of loss. Remember their sons and daughters, their husbands and wives, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, friends. Don’t remember our loved ones just this one day.

And please use this ONE Memorial Day to do something, even something small, to honor the fallen. Teach your kids about it. Then go for a run or throw a Frisbee, eat a hot dog, laugh until you cry, kiss your sweetheart and appreciate your freedoms. Too many died young in service of our country.

Too many didn’t get the luxury of growing old.

They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot 

say: it is you who must say this.

They say, We leave you our deaths:

give them their meaning: give them an end to the war

and a true peace: give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards: give them their

meaning.

We were young, they say. 

We have died. 

Remember us. 

-from The Young Soldiers Do Not Speak, Archibald MacLeish

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Kryste Buoniconti lives with her children in Washington State and is the director of Live Your Love Loud, a nonprofit started in her husband’s honor that provides adoption grants to military families and other humanitarian projects.

Photos courtesy of Rainbeau Decker of Flying Stripes Media and Kryste Buoniconti.

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  • Raleigh Duttweiler

    Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for sharing your story. And please know, even as complete strangers, in this house, we will carry your husband with us daily, too.

  • Andi

    You are not only a strong woman, but you are real. Thank you for sharing this and reminding us all that for some Memorial Day is every day. We must never forget.

  • the first mel

    Beautiful article.

  • Leesbro

    Thank you for writing this!

  • mona

    my grandfathers fought in WWI my father fought in WWII and was wounded, my 3 brothers fought in Vietnam. One was killed, his name is Robert W. Vehling. Age 24 his second tour being a helicopter pilot…. he was just married a few months before he was shipped. He loved his country, not really knowing why he or my other two brothers were there. But they all were drafted and they wanted to serve their country. Robert is buried in Indiana, and I live in Iowa. EVERY memorial weekend (and other weekends) I spend hours at the cemetery where other fallen soldiers are laid to rest. I feel a closeness to my brother when I am there walking and talking to the other fallen. I cry a lot, pray a lot and beg forgiveness from them as I feel our country is letting them all down. Wondering if we will ever regain the country they all died for?
    I so pray our leaders will do the right thing and end all the struggles to take our freedoms away that so many have died to give. I pray God will help us do the right things and at least make peace with our great nation…..I pray all those that do not have family members in the military or ever had family members in the military will see what sacrifices these young men and women have given. And not take them for granted…..FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. I still Love My country and I know if my brother Robert were here with us today he would also love his country……GOD BLESS THE USA AND THE AMERICAN SOLDIER……

  • Holly Cordial

    Thank you Kryste. We’ve lost touch with you but never forgot. I hope you and the kids are well. I’m so happy to see your dream of sharing this tragedy as a nonprofit to help others has evolved. Say hi to Melody as well. The whole family misses both of you guys & families!

  • Michelle W

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. It is a testament to why we are to reflect and remember on Memorial Day, something I feel many were not taught or have forgotten.

  • Robin Ferschke

    Thank you for writing this, my heart is with you. My son was only 22 years old when he was killed in Iraq on 8-10-08. I feel exactly what you do. Our Hero’s will be remembered. Mother of SGT. Michael H. Ferschke Jr. USMC Recon. Our Angels are together.

  • Mary Lou Carter

    12 December seems to be a rough day as on that date in 1985 we lost our 22 year old son along with 247 comrades in a plane crash at Gander, Newfoundland. They were coming home from 6 months peacekeeping duty in the Sinai. Condo lenses to you and pray you are given the strength needed to raise your children. Life is never the same after a tragic loss, but when God closes a door, He also opens windows of healing, love and joy.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Mary Lou — my deepest condolences for your loss. Here at Fort Campbell we are reminded of Gander every day as we drive by the beautiful grove of trees on post. Your son’s sacrifice is not forgotten.

    • Teresa S. Bazyk

      I was in the Air Force when this plane crashed. I knew 3 men that died on this same flight. One of them was the father of my friends 4 year old daughter. We were making plans for Christmas when this plane crashed. Every year I pray for these young men and others that have died in service to out country.

  • Steve

    I lost 6 friends at Gander, 3 in Panama and 17 in Iraq. My Mother passed away during my tour of Iraq. Every day is Memorial Day. Today while driving home I passed the local church whose “high speed” flashing sign said “Happy Memorial Day”. I just shook my head, then I read this wrenching article-I dread “Memorial Day”, but do my meager best to help others understand the price some pay to keep this great country free. I will always be humbled thinking of this sacrifice, will any of us who survive be worthy of it?

  • Mary N.

    Thank you for writing this. It makes the loss of life and the true meaning of Memorial Day so real and having written it, you have made your reality, much more of a universal reality , for those who have not had to pay the real price of freedom. A blessing upon you, your children and all who have loved and lost a Military member in the pursuit of freedom. God Bless You, and God Bless America

  • kac

    My heart breaks for you and all the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and spouses of those who have given their all. You have all sacrificed so much for so many, and I am truly grateful to have the honor & privilege of reading your story. You’re right – there’s not a thing “happy” about Memorial Day, and EVERY day should be Memorial Day. Thank you for having the courage & bravery to put it out there.

    God Bless & keep you all!

  • Susanna Bartee

    So well said. Thank you.

  • Erin

    Kryste – you couldn’t have captured this any better. Love you, the kids, and so grateful for brave men like Frank.

  • Gary Satterfield

    Thank you for this comment from the heart. Four remarkable soldiers were lost that evening. I felt as you regarding the relief of having Shan home after three hazardous tours feeling confident that we had escaped the dreaded knock. Again, thank you for sharing, Cindy and I are both Vietnam era veterans and now Memorial Day has a most personal impact on us both. We hope you and your children are doing well.

  • coddlecreekpetservices

    Thank you. Earlier today I was remembering my brother’s buddy, Robert “Robbie” Wehunt. We lost him in Vietnam. I think often of his parents, Scott and Mable. Robbie was their only child and was not married…no grandchildren. Thankful that my husband made it through 22 years of USAF service. Thankful that my Daddy, uncles and auut all made it through WWII and one uncle made it through Korean conflict.
    Thank you and I am sorry…all in one.

  • Jacy

    We always remember our fallen. Frank is just another hero placed in our hearts as we go through our days. My kids ask God to bless our troops and the families that lose them every night in our grace. Frank like so many, too many, will never be forget by us!

  • Chuck

    Excellent article. Another view, might be that because of Frank and others who have made the ultimate sacrifice it is a “Happy” Memorial Day. Not that they have lost their life, but that we celebrate their life and service for our country. My family, too, has a rich history in the military and has sacrificed much to keep our country free. Thank you for your family and your service and sacrifices. Many forget that the military family sacrifices along with the military member. You have given much to our country.

  • Sherry Stewart

    Thank you Kryste for your beautiful and touching story of Memorial Day! We are so sorry for your loss, and pray everyday for our Soldiers. Everyday should be Memorial Day, I agree. My husband survived Vietnam if you can call it survived. He was blown up by mortar round and the affects of Agent Orange, he deals with PTSD, depression and so many other illnesses and on this day every year he wonders why he lived and the buddies around him on that day in Vietnam when he was hit, his buddies lost their lives. He has had close to 40 surgeries, is in a Wheelchair, had Kidney Transplant, Cancer and still he says he would do it all again. He loves our Country very much and all those that he fought for and our Freedom as well. I am currently taking care of him, because he is no longer able to do the things he did before. He cannot drive, go fishing or play golf. I pray God’s Blessings upon you and everyone who has lost a loved one or is a caregiver of a loved one who suffers from the after effects of War. Thank you again for your heart wrenching story. God’s love to your family.

  • Needles

    Thank you for this story.
    bcgiii

  • David Farrow

    I am a 67 year old Viet Nam Vet and I’m sitting here after reading this crying like a baby. So many emotions, so many words I want to say but I can’t get them out. I’m angry and sad and mean and soft all at the same time and I want to do something, anything to make sthis stop and I can;t. I;n sorry, so sorry for you and those babies. I wish we could have all done better I wish they had kearned there lesssons in Washington byt they haven;t .I’m sorry

  • Lauren

    What a beautiful tribute to your husband, and all who have served and lost their lives defending our freedom. May God bless you and all the families who live “Memorial” day 365 days a year. And may the rest of us remember the true meaning of this day, and not the “commercialized” version that so many of our sacred holidays have become.

  • Angie

    I am so selfishly glad this isn’t my story, yet also so sorry for your loss – the loss of a husband and father. Thank you for sharing the hard truth of Memorial Day, for those who do not understand. Praying for your family, though I don’t know you, all past/present military spouses are connected.

  • Chris

    As a Veteran I thank you for posting such a great article and being so brave and forthcoming to share you life and heart with us all. I hope your family continues to cherish the memories of your husband and father and you find peace in your lives.