In the eyes of many Americans, Memorial Day is the symbolic starting pistol that’s fired in a race toward summer. It’s seen as a long weekend of store sales, travel and cookouts. However, the real reason we celebrate Memorial Day is to remember and honor those who have died while serving in the U.S. armed forces.
Throughout the history of the United States, there have been many variations of Memorial Day, but it wasn’t until the 1868 ceremonies at Gettysburg National Park, that “Decoration Day” or “Memorial Day” became nationally known. The custom of laying wreaths or laying flowers at fallen soldiers’ grave markers on Memorial Day became a tradition. A preferred name of Memorial Day became more recognized after World War II and was not declared the official name until 1967 and then made an official Federal Holiday in 1971.
As a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and Operation Desert Storm, the long Memorial Day weekends over the years have been filled with personal reflection, remembrance of the men and women I served with, as well as an acknowledgment of the day Captain Patrick Olson died.
I was a young airman stationed in Saudi Arabia at a place called King Khalid Military City as a crash firefighter. My job as a firefighter was to support the crash, fire and rescue operations of the airfield. Our department of firefighters was responsible for any aircraft that would land on base.
During that time, we had all survived a lot. We escaped many situations, from SCUD Missile attacks, successful emergency aircraft landings and ejections, to poisonous desert creatures invading our living space. However, on Feb. 27, 1991, the day before the war officially ended, we lost one of our own. An OA-10 pilot from our home base by the name of Captain Patrick Olson was returning from a mission. His aircraft had come under fire as he was attempting to knock out enemy tanks. Captain Olson’s OA-10 had been severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire. He was advised to eject, but instead decided to land to save the aircraft. With no hydraulics left to maneuver the fighter jet, Captain Olson used manual cables to move the wings in his attempt to land. His plane landed on the runway successfully, when suddenly the landing gear collapsed, flipping the plane and tragically killing Captain Olson instantly.
Witnessing Captain Olson’s heroic attempt and tragic death that day has stuck with me through the years. As time has gone by, the mental wound eases a bit, but never completely goes away. Nor should it. Whether you’re an active duty military member, a veteran, a military family member or an American citizen, Memorial Day is as much for you as it is the fallen. Remembering those who died serving our country is an exercise for the living. It reminds us to appreciate the sacrifices that have been made to defend our country, preserve our constitution, and American way of life. It reminds us of those who gave it all.
“Whether you’re an active duty military member, a veteran, a military family member or an American citizen, Memorial Day is as much for you as it is the fallen.”
So as a member of the 1A Auto family, I encourage my fellow employees and our customers to take a moment on Memorial Day to reflect on and acknowledge the real meaning of Memorial Day. Remember those who made it possible for all of us to live in a beautiful country, a land of opportunity and freedom.