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What Memorial Day Is All About

Memorial Day
John Moore/Getty Images
The veteran I honor and remember on Memorial Day weekend was born on August 3rd, 1920. That’s an important date, because that meant he was 21 years old on December 7th, 1941.

Pearl Harbor Day.

He was a farm kid, skinny, one of nine kids in the family. Growing up near a little town called Trosky, Minnesota, he only went through the 7th grade. That’s about all the farm kid’s went though in ‘those days’, 7th or 8th grade. It was all you really needed back then, because the plan was this: You’d go back and work on your parents far, then maybe hire out to a neighbor farmer and then, if luck and sweat was on your side, you’d get a farm of our own. Maybe a quarter section, maybe a half. And you’d settle down, get married, raise your own family and the cycle would start all over again.

That’s what this guy figured on doing. And what that meant was, he was just like everyone else, no better, no worse.

Except, of course, December 7th 1941 happened. At the time he, like millions of others, didn’t know exactly what it meant. Except that it wasn’t good.

It wasn’t long after that he left that little farm, left his parents, brothers and sisters and went off. To Kansas. To California. To Louisiana. To New York. And then, to Europe.

There wasn’t anything special about this, about his travels. You know someone just like this young guy, maybe your Father, Grandfather, an Uncle, a neighbor. He wasn’t, and they weren’t, special. They were just young American men, and in some cases, just boys.

My veteran, this one I remember on Memorial Day (and everyday, truth be told), went to England first. But there were other places, countries like France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, others. And there were places, places I’ve read about both in school and at home. Names that the world would know.

Normandy.

The Rhine.

The Ardennes Forest.

The Bulge.

This skinny young fella, he saw all those places. And he saw things, things he didn’t talk about, not hardly ever.

The death. The noise. The concentration camp. The smells.

No, instead he talked about his buddies, the laughs, the wine in the cellars of bombed out towns of France.

And he talked about getting out, coming home. He married the prettiest girl in his home area, the prettiest girl in 7 counties. He started a family, had a couple kids and lived a good life. A good man.

In other words, he was common, ordinary, just like millions of guys (and women) who did exactly the same thing.

He’d tell you he didn’t do anything special, just did what had to be done and then came home. A hero? He’d laugh, tell you to shut up and get back to cleaning out that hog pen.

But he was. And so were they all.

Take a minute or so. Step away from the burgers, hot dogs, step back from the warm friendships that you’re enjoying, back up for just a minute and get up out of that lawn chair and set down that ice cold beer.

Yes, it’s a day off, a long weekend, a time to relax and get away from work.

Thank (silently if you want) that one veteran you knew, the one that’s no longer here fishing with you or putting that steak sauce on that piece of meat with you…and just says thanks. And remember.

For me? Thanks Dad, Marvin Achterhoff, WWII Army veteran, passed away January 2, 2007, age 86.

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