Honor. Respect. Sacrifice.
It was December 2003, and I was living at my friends parents house so that I could work a retail job at Tyson’s Corner during my holiday break from my senior year at Virginia Tech. My friend Adam’s parents generously opened their home to me to stay for three weeks, even though they had never met me before. Better yet, Adam was studying abroad in Europe and wasn’t going to even be at home while I stayed there.
It was the week before Christmas and I had off one evening. It just so happened that Adam’s brother Jared was briefly coming home from serving in the Army. As a graduate of West Point, Jared had been doing his service duty supporting our troops and war effort in Iraq. Earlier that year, Jared’s Humvee was hit by an IED that tore through his vehicle and killed the driver and injured Jared. I was with Adam when the news broke about Jared’s injuries, so I felt as part of the family through this event.
Jared’s return trip home was a somber one. He was burying on of his classmates from West Point at Arlington Cemetary. I was the only person home at my newly established surrogate family home, when I first met Jared. Their mother Maureen had told me a little bit about what was going on and that it would be great if I could hang out with Jared after the funeral to cheer him up.
At Jared’s request, we met to shoot pool and have some beers. Having never met the guy before and knowing why he was home for a quick visit before going back into service, I strayed away from asking any personal questions.
We got a table and he broke the first game of pool. The waitress came over and Jared looks over at me and says “Yuengling is his favorite beer.” and ordered three. The waitress obviously thought we had another person joining us and paid no attention.
I knew better than to ask whose favorite beer was Yuengling, because he obviously meant his fallen classmate and Army brother. After the first game, the waitress came back and Jared ordered another round of three Yuengling’s. Into our third game, Jared repeated the order. Sitting on the side rail of the wall beside the table were now three full Yuengling’s of differing levels of freshness. I saw the puzzled look in the waitresses face as she didn’t understand why Jared kept ordering three beers. Before she could ask the question about the row of now warm beers on the railing, I looked at her and pulled her aside as Jared took his next shot.
“I know you’re confused about the undrank Yuengling’s,” I said turning away from the table. “You see, Jared is in the Army and is just home tonight to bury a classmate of his from his days at West Point. His fallen soldier and Army brother was from Pennsylvania and this is his favorite beer. We are playing pool tonight as if he was here with us in his honor. So keep bringing the three Yuengling’s in remembrance of his friend.”
At no point did Jared really tell me any of these details, but throughout our conversations together that evening and our rapidly growing friendship, I had picked up the details of this tradition and took away three key parts of military life and the true reason we celebrate Memorial Day.
Honor. You honor everyone you have served with, with a beer. Whether in person or in celebration of who they were. Always order one for them every round. They would want you to and would do the same for you.
Respect. Everyone deserves respect and to know that we will celebrate either with you or for you in life.
Sacrifice. It’s part of the call all soldiers answer when they enter service knowing that they might be put in situations to sacrifice their lives to protect the rights and freedoms of their friends, family, and others they have never met.
I learned a lot that night about the true meaning of Memorial Day. It wasn’t explained to me or taught to me, but shown to me through the remembrance of his fallen friend, classmate, and Army brother. While ordering a beer to celebrate someone’s life might not seem like the best way to remember someone, it was in the fact that playing pool and drinking Yuengling were what Jared and his friend used to do together back at West Point and when they served together. So we carried on their tradition that night in honor of him. We celebrated together that day the life of a soldier I never met, who lost his life protecting the rights and life I enjoy. A life that he had enjoyed drinking a cold Yuengling and shooting pool. And now, I’m part of the story of how and why we celebrate Memorial Day today. To honor, respect, and remember the lives of those lost protecting what we take for granted sometimes, our freedom.
Thank you to all of the fallen soldiers who sacrificed their lives protecting ours.