A Memorial Day Memory

An unforgettable day is a reminder to give thanks to all who serve.

By Rick Hamlin, New York, New York

As appeared in

These stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever. Joshua 4:7

When publications run pictures of Memorial Day, they usually show cemeteries like Arlington with its thousands of pristine markers in unbroken waves or the American cemetery at Normandy with its countless crosses and stars of David. But the memory I have of the day is of quaint Mountain View Cemetery in the foothills of Pasadena, California, where my grandfather, a staunch member of the American Legion, made sure every veteran’s grave was marked with a small American flag.

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My grandfather, for reasons that were never clear to me, used to call us kids “you stick-in-the-muds.” And I always thought of that expression on Memorial Day when we kids scattered through the cemetery in the day’s waning light to collect the flags before sunset, digging them out of the mud. You could find them at the feet of the most ornate marble angel or next to a simple granite stone.

Some of these graves had pretty rosebushes around them or fresh flowers in a vase nearby. Others were neglected and overgrown, as though no one had visited in years–not until our young feet scampered by. Most of the flags were for people I’d never known, some of whom, from the dates on their stones, died all too young. But all of them were, like my grandfather and father, veterans of war.

By sunset the flags were put away in boxes and bags in the back of Grampie’s car, ready for next Memorial Day. We dashed home. But we all learned that remembering the dead wasn’t passive. It was an action, something my grandfather organized year after year. And I suspect he asked us “stick-in-the-muds” to help him so that someday we would realize that thanks are owed to generation after generation, in graves fancy and plain, known and unknown, with more flags than fit in the back of a Buick. It’s something you couldn’t forget.

Lord, I give thanks for those who serve.