Without a doubt our service men and women are owed our deep gratitude for their service to our country. They have voluntarily taken on the responsibility of service and sacrifice to our country that has sustained the freedoms all of us have come to love. They are all heroes and should be counted as such. In addition to those who are serving or served in active duty in all branches of service there is another group that deserves the title "hero". That group is the family of those who have served throughout the world ensuring the continued presence of the American way of life.
Spouses: Mostly women, but many men have been and are married to a person in the military service. Home fires have been kept burning; life continues to move on even when the military spouse is ten thousand miles away. Bills have to be paid, oftentimes with less than adequate funding available, all the challenges of running a household must continue without the help of the absent spouse, children must continue to be cared for, questions answered, nurtured almost as a single parent, juggling the daily life of school attendance and all social activities. In many cases the spouse is also working to help "make ends meet" and have to manage without the immediate advice of the absent spouse, and certainly without the actual working alongside with the spouse when that person is stationed away from home. Perhaps the heaviest burden of all is living on a minute-by-minute basis each day with the constant realization that at any moment actual harm can befall their loving spouse in the pursuit of defending freedoms for all of us. That is a heavy burden that most people whose spouse is not in "harm's way" simply may not understand.
Children: A child whose parent is serving in the military and particularly those who are away from home, have a very difficult time coping with the absence of the parent. The child is constantly reminded the parent is away doing a job that is meant to provide safety for citizens of our country. The child, depending upon the age of the child, shares the dreaded "harm's way" burden knowing there may be notification on any day at any time of an event that will change his/her life forever. On a daily basis there are many activities completed without the presence of the absent parent: School activities, sports activities, church attendance, movies, meals, bedtime, vacations, homework, meeting friends, chores, eating out and just plain conversation.
Parents: Parents of any age have a profound sense of apprehension when their child serves in the military, especially during war time and when the child is serving in a war zone. Of course there is a great sense of pride from those who know the immense responsibility and honor the child has in being part of a network of a "Band of Brothers" who are protecting the freedoms of American citizens. Even in the presence of that pride, however, there is a sense of loneliness that comes from knowing their in-law child and their grandchildren are suffering through their child's absence due to the job.
Siblings: Brothers and Sisters of the person serving in the military are both proud and concerned at the same time. Sibling relationships can sometimes be shaky or solid depending on the individual siblings. As adulthood arrives with most siblings as happens when they begin to arrive at the age of eligibility to join a military service, a bonding begins to form that sets aside childhood or adolescent rivalries and is replaced by acceptance of decisions, support for choices and respect of person. As with the other relations from family, the sibling has that gnawing sense of anxiety of the unknown, especially if the sibling is in a war zone that creates an environment of harm's way.
Grandparents: Grandparents have all the feelings expressed and felt by other family members, but generally they have one feeling and awareness that others may not have. With grandparents the likelihood exists that they have experienced both sides of the military in their lifetime. Likely the grandpa has been in the military, perhaps in a war zone that has put him in harm's way. The grandma remembers the hardships she faced during the WWII or Korea period with rationing, restrictions, limited resources in the family budget and the constant waiting for the war's end. Perhaps the grandparents were involved in the Viet Nam War that not only changed the political landscape of America, but the civil discourse as well. They may well understand the turning tide of American sentiments toward the military when they grow war-weary. They have an empathy that feels the pain of a grandchild who makes sacrifices only to return to a hostile neighborhood.
Ultimate Sacrifice: Finally, those spouses, children, parents, siblings and grandparents who have answered that door with uniformed men standing on the porch knowing what the message they carried contained, are counted as heroes of the heroes. As they stand at the door listening to the message of Brothers in Uniform deliver the untimely news from a "Grateful Nation" that regrets to inform the family of the loss, their minds soar to the darkness of grief while their hearts sink to the depths of loss.
When we celebrate the Memorial Day with our picnics, cookouts, car races, family get-to-gathers and a hundred other freedoms of our choice, we should also remember those who provided the ultimate sacrifice of defending those freedoms. But not only that, we should remember all those families who supported and surrounded their military person with love and a bit of anxiety, fear and trepidation by suffering all the "what-if's" during the time they waited for the homecoming. We should remember their standing tall as they learned of the supreme sacrifice their loved one made to secure and maintain the peace and freedom of our wonderful country. In all respects they have earned the right to be called heroes as well.