By: David Stewart
As Memorial Day passed recently, I found myself lying in a hammock at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki. There were people cooking out, lots relaxing on the beach, tourist walking around, and a sense of joy in the air. The weather was spectacular, the water was just the right temperature, and you could smell the cheeseburgers cooking all around. It was the most crowded I have seen Waikiki in the past year, of course we all know we have Covid to thank for that. It was encouraging to see people out, mask free for the most part, and enjoying the day the Lord had made. This was no ordinary day though, and although it was eventful to some, to others it was more about honor than celebration.
My life had a four-year period in it that existed a true memory. I was once a United States Marine and stationed on this very island I live on now for the second time. I was a nineteen-year-old man at the time, stationed in Kaneohe, and left Oahu at the age of twenty-two. Some of the most memorable times of my life happened here including the birth of my daughter. Some of the scariest times happened here as well, including the night I almost died in the streets of Waikiki. So, for me to find myself living here again, laying in the hammock thinking about all these past experiences was very timeless. One memory that kept coming to mind was the first time I understood what a soldier gave up when he committed to the military…. his ability to choose. As I was sitting at the beach today, I also realized why they gave that up.
My job use to be as a radio communicator with the United States Marine Corps. Anyone who knows that job knows part of the requirements is to carry that radio on your back, in war time this would not be a ideal situation. I was nineteen when I received the news that my unit was on standby for the Gulf war. We lost certain freedoms to travel far on weekends, because we had to be available if the call came that would send us to Iraq. My weekends usually meant meeting the tourist in Waikiki with a group of my friends from base. I remember sitting on a balcony in one of the hotels with a girl I met visiting from Canada. My conversation was different, my mannerisms were not the same, my thoughts were all over the place with no real structure to them. Normally, I was the confident one of the bunch, the talkative one, the one always found at the parties. This night on the outside balcony I found myself in an unusual situation for me, I was afraid.
This poor tourist that had just meet me a few nights before, certainly never thought this would be part of her Hawaii vacation. She got to listen to this country guy from North Carolina process what it would be like to really go to war. She got to hear all my concerns about never seeing my family again, she heard my voice crack as I realized all the things, I wanted to do but haven’t yet. I know I was over thinking things, as it was just standby orders, but there was a real chance that war could be in my near future. The word “war” can be scary to anybody but to a nineteen-year-old just leaving home for the first time this was certainly the beginning of the end. The whole night was me talking, pacing, trying to figure out what to do with the news that I could be “sent” and not wanting to “go”. Wherever you are Julie from Canada, I am sorry you had to endure that, but so very thankful that you did.
A few months went by and these standby orders that gripped me eventually lost their strength. My unit received the news that the war would not need us after all, and life resumed as normal for me. My long-term memory is not the best, never has been, but certain memories I can recall. The fact that this is one of those memories stands out to me, it really highlights Memorial Day. My story of war is just one of a runaway imagination and the worries it caused, but can you imagine the ones where war is a reality. There are real moms and dads that never got to see their children again. There are real spouses where the significant other never made it home. There are other nineteen year old teenagers who faced the same fears I had, but never had a phone call that would cause their life to resume as normal. When a young man or woman makes a choice to enlist in the military, they essentially give up a freedom to choose in other areas of their life. When the call comes in to send you somewhere, it is not up for debate on whether you go or not. Why would someone give up that freedom they have in their life? Why did I? Its because they see they beauty in life, and they know how important it is to protect that.
There was a movie called Armageddon where the astronaut was about to go to space and his girlfriend ask a question, “Baby, do you think it’s possible that there’s someone doing this very same thing at this very same time? “The astronaut responds, “I hope so, otherwise what are we trying to save?” I like this quote and think it sums up Memorial Day best for me. Soldiers enlist because they know a life lived out fully is worth fighting for! If nineteen-year-old me on a balcony in Waikiki could see forty-six-year-old me sitting in a hammock in Waikiki Park, I think his fear would have been easier to process. Memorial Day is a day we remember all the soldiers who gave up their ability to choose, so future generations can have the same opportunities to life a rewarding life. To all my fellow soldiers that got the call to “Go”, I want to use this time and this opportunity to say, Thank You! You are Memorable!