When Memorial Day is more than picnics and barbecue

Candice King holds a photograph while reflecting on her son, SCP Ryan C. King. King outside at her house in Canton. King served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and was killed on May 1, 2009. Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Candice King holds a photograph while reflecting on her son, SCP Ryan C. King. King outside at her house in Canton. King served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and was killed on May 1, 2009. Wednesday, May 18, 2022. Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Spc. Ryan C. King’s family will gather in his memory at Georgia National Cemetery

Ryan King was a fun-loving high school freshman in Cobb County when the U.S. was attacked on 9/11.

Born on Veteran’s Day, he had always been sure it was his destiny to serve in the armed forces. He had long admired his great-grandmother, Christine Black, an Army nurse who served in World War II and in Korea. The carnage of that day in 2001 made him even more intent on serving.

Combined ShapeCaption
Spc. Ryan C. King was killed in action on May 1, 2009, while serving in Afghanistan. Family photo

Credit: family photos

Spc. Ryan C. King was killed in action on May 1, 2009, while serving in Afghanistan. Family photo

Credit: family photos

Combined ShapeCaption
Spc. Ryan C. King was killed in action on May 1, 2009, while serving in Afghanistan. Family photo

Credit: family photos

Credit: family photos

Before he enlisted in the Army, “I tried to bribe him not to go,” said his mother, Candice King, who lives in Canton. “I tried to say ‘Travel to Europe for a year, go here, go there.’ Many parents during that time were trying to talk their kids out of it. It was such a dangerous time. But he said, ‘I believe in it strongly.’ I can’t fault him for that.”

Serving in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, Ryan King, 22, was killed May 1, 2009, during a firefight in the Kunar Province. A rocket-propelled grenade landed in his bunker, which caved in on him, said his mother. Two other soldiers were killed in the attack.

For many Americans, Memorial Day is about the long weekend, barbecue and splashing in the lake.

For the King family, Memorial Day is different.

“We do a picnic, a cookout or whatever. But, for us, it has a lot more meaning because there is that time to stop and reflect on what the day is really for,” Candice King said.

Often, her family will gather at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, where her son is buried. “We’ll try for a moment of silence at 3 p.m., just a time in recognition of all that we’ve lost,” she said.

Gold Star families — the immediate relatives of service members who died while serving in a time of conflict — have sought to encourage that moment of silence around the country. But, in general, most people don’t remember, King said.

Though friends might leave keepsakes around a crabapple tree in her yard, planted in Ryan’s honor, “for most people, Memorial Day is just a fun day to start the summer,” she said. “Those of us who know different have felt the loss of what the day was about.”

The 56-year-old, who works in food service for Fulton County Schools, is the director of the Georgia chapter of Honor and Remember, an organization dedicated to showing gratitude to those who gave their lives in military service.

“A lot of times, when you mention that you’ve had a loss, especially when it’s a military loss, these days people get quiet,” she said.” A lot of times, that’s the end of your conversation, and it’s especially lately because it’s become political.”

Even though, she said, it’s not political at all.

Combined ShapeCaption
A photograph of the late SCP Ryan C. King lays in front of his grave, Thursday, May 12, 2022. King served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and was killed on May 1, 2009. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

A photograph of the late SCP Ryan C. King lays in front of his grave, Thursday, May 12, 2022. King served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and was killed on May 1, 2009. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Combined ShapeCaption
A photograph of the late SCP Ryan C. King lays in front of his grave, Thursday, May 12, 2022. King served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and was killed on May 1, 2009. (Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Every autumn, her chapter of Honor and Remember stages a 164-mile Run for the Fallen, from Milledgeville to Fort Benning. The group will call out the names of 725-plus Georgians killed since the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

The Georgia chapter also hosts a Memorial Marathon during the month of May, when a member will be running or walking, day and night, from the 1st to the 31st.

“Our kids died for something they believed in,” she said, “and, as long as we’re speaking their names, they live on in our memories.”

Ryan has two brothers, and many cousins, but not everybody will come to the Memorial Day gathering at the cemetery. While Ryan will remain 22 forever, they have grown up, gotten married, had children, and now have baseball and soccer games to attend and a million other responsibilities.

“Everybody else’s life has moved on,” said King. “Things change.”