Memorial Day is a federal holiday in which we remember and honor those brave men and women who have died during their military service to our country. This national holiday always falls on the last Monday in May and is a time when families, individuals and veterans get together to pay their respects to those service men and women America has loved and lost. We had the opportunity to hear from a few veterans about their experiences during their time served, as well as what Memorial Day and patriotism means to them.
U.S. Navy, E-7, Served 17 years
Ronald Cleveland of Boise, Idaho, joined the U.S. Navy in 1965 and served aboard the U.S.S. Hornet Aircraft Carrier, in addition to serving overseas in Vietnam, Okinawa and the Philippines. Cleveland joined the Navy because he felt it was the right thing to do since he wasn’t going to attend college. He recalls visiting various overseas locations while on deployment and during his off-duty time, having fun while lobster diving along the coast of San Diego. Lessons he learned during his time served include working hard to advance his career and to always listen to your Master Chief. For Cleveland, Memorial Day is a bittersweet holiday that makes him think of fellow veterans, both past and present. Including many of the men he served with in Vietnam that never made it home. “There is always an empty spot in my heart that I just can’t fill. I get tears every flag ceremony I attend,” said Cleveland.
For Cleveland, patriotism means “taking your hat off when the flag comes by. No talking or answering of those damn cell phones when the National Anthem is played. It means that in this country, we are all equal and should be treated that way. It means that you need to support the U.S. and what it stands for. People today come from all over the world to be in this country because of what we have, but once here they try to change it to be the way it was where they came from. Here we are all Americans under one flag, and we need to remember that before we need to worry about patriotism or we won’t have the freedom of patriotism.”
U.S. Air Force, Technical Sergeant, Served 11 years
Kristian Hanson, originally from Chicago, Illinois, but raised in Gilbert, Arizona, has served for 11 years in the United States Air Force as a Technical Sergeant. Along with being stationed in Phoenix, Biloxi and San Antonio, Hanson had a tour of duty overseas at Camp Bucca in Iraq where he worked as a prison guard.
Hanson joined the military just after his 18th birthday, and said he was looking forward to the challenge of going through basic training. For Hanson, Memorial Day is a very special day. He always gives thanks to those who have served in the military, particularly his father, a Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force, and his grandfather, a paratrooper in World War II. Hanson looked up to both and learned a great deal from each veteran in his family. “All in all, I feel great about Memorial Day, but in my eyes, it should not be just one day, it should be every day,” said Hanson.
When it comes to his feelings on patriotism, Hanson said, “Patriotism to me means loving your country for what it is. The United States may have its issues, but it is still the greatest country in the world for the freedoms we are entitled. Patriotism is seeing a military member and saying ‘thank you’ to them for their service. I still remember getting back from tech school, I was 19 and walking through my mall in uniform on a lunch break. Some kids who were 15 or 16 came up to me and thanked me and I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t done anything at that time, but it was just a nice thing to see and I wish I could see them again and tell them, ‘thank you to you as well for showing respect to the uniform and to the country’.”
U.S. Air Force, Airborne Command Post Radio Tech, Served 7 years
Jimmie Ligon, originally from Norfolk, Virginia, says he grew up an Air Force brat, so he always knew he would one day join the military. During his seven years of active duty, he was stationed at Air Force bases in South Dakota and Nebraska, and worked as an Airborne Command Post Radio Tech. Ligon volunteered to assist his fellow airmen during Operation Desert Storm, but was not eligible since he was a younger airman with no flight status at that time. He says he learned many lessons throughout his military career, especially when it comes to leadership and patience. He’s also garnered a deep appreciation for those who have served with him and before him.
For Ligon, Memorial Day makes him think about all veterans — both past and present. He values the fact that he’s been able to meet and connect with people from all over the United States and form friendship bonds that he still maintains today. “In my eyes, patriotism is more of a sense of duty, belonging and pride for the United States. Every Memorial Day, I am proud to be a military veteran and have had the opportunity to serve my country,” said Ligon.
Sue Gabel has been writing entertainment and travel-related articles in the greater Puget Sound/Seattle area since 1999. She writes about music, the Seattle scene and more. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.