After working his night shift as a Floyd County policeman, Dallas Bryant drove to his mom’s house Monday morning. Donna Blair was waiting there, holding two bouquets she bought at WalMart the day before, for a drive to the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton.
They were headed to visit 1st Sergeant John Blair — his stepdad and her husband — dead these nine years from an RPG blast in Afghanistan.
“It’s an emotional day,” Blair said.
Memorial Day may spark a range of emotions for Georgians, including, to be honest, relief and excitement at a three-day weekend. But the U.S. remains a nation at war, and its conflict in Afghanistan is the longest war in American history. American servicemen and women continue to die there, as late as last month. For Blair and the families of 4,000 U.S. service members and contractors whose lives have ended in Afghanistan, Memorial Day is a holiday. And it’s personal.
Blair remembers her husband as a gentleman and a soldier who died firing a machine gun to defend his convoy from ambush. He was part of the Georgia National Guard’s 48th brigade based in Macon.
The flowers Blair bought were as red, white and blue as flowers can get without looking flat-out dyed. Some purple statice blooms filled in a red and white rose bouquet, and another bunch of roses were a bluish shade of violet.
Blair and Bryant set them down at John’s headstone with an American flag, and they talked. Blair updated her husband on the latest goings on. “I know he’s listening. You feel that’s like hallowed place,” she said.
She can spend all day at his graveside, she said. Sometimes she runs into other families of the fallen, but not Monday. At that hour of the morning there weren’t many people.
Then Blair had to get to work. “We didn’t get to stay there but about an hour,” she said.
She manages the club at the American Legion hall in Calhoun. She doesn’t like the way so many Americans give barely a passing thought to what Memorial Day means. It’s less of a problem at her job.
There, Memorial Day still involves serving beer, coffee and Coca-Cola. But it also means patrons who think about John’s sacrifice, and her sacrifice, and how maybe something precious had been wrenched from their own lives.
“Not at this place they don’t forget about it,” she said. “We probably had one of the biggest turnouts we’ve ever had.”
More than 100 people, she guesses. There’s a brief annual ceremony where organizers pick out a service member and tell a story about him. And they honor the fallen. John’s 2-year-old granddaughter participated for the first time, toddling out with the group as they saluted his monument there.
“She’s so patriotic it’s unreal,” Blair said.
She expected to work til 10 p.m. Memorial Day. “A long day.”
She says John had a job too, and it’s important people think of the job he and his fellow service members were doing. They worked in freezing temperatures and 140 degree heat. It’s easy to say, well they signed up for it, she says. The fact is, they sacrificed for principles, for freedom and the greater good. She remembers that with or without a holiday, with grief on her doorstep daily. She hopes Memorial Day helps others to think.
“You know if everybody shared, and opened up your heart a little bit, sometimes you got to realize the whole world hurts,” she said. “But you got to look at all these soldiers, they give up everything for us. For all of us.”
And she’s got something else to say: “Don’t ever save the wine glasses or the wine or a special dress or anything else from that special occasion,” she said. “Every day of your life is a special occasion. And somebody paid for your life.”