A Memorial Day observance from the seat of a bicycle

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Zach Anderson
  • 4th Air Force Public Affairs
As 2nd Lt. Anderson cruises through Riverside on his rusty bike, he finds the spirit of Memorial Day alive in backyard gatherings and barbecues.

To say the bicycle was in "bad shape" would be a bit of an understatement.

It would be more accurate to say the bicycle was in such a state of disrepair I was hesitant about even taking it out for a ride. The chain rusted solid, gears and axles bone-dry, tires cracked and flat, brakes worn to nubs, handlebar grips rotting off ... a year's worth of neglect in the California sun had definitely taken its toll. Nevertheless, it was Memorial Day and, being off work, I didn't have anything else to do. There was nothing on TV, my wife was asleep on the couch, and I was getting bored. A long, relaxing bike ride seemed like a great way to kill off a few hours of the afternoon.

Two hours, plenty of elbow-grease and half a can of WD-40 later, the bike still wasn't quite Tour de France material, but I figured I had fixed it up well enough to cruise the streets of Riverside.

I double-checked the air in the tires, strapped on my bike helmet, straddled the seat and made a few cautious circles around the apartment parking lot. I was pleased that other than a somewhat wobbly front tire, the bike seemed to function okay despite its decrepit condition. Now confident the bike wouldn't collapse underneath me, I took off for the streets.

Not having a particular destination in mind, I peddled somewhat aimlessly down a few city streets before turning off into a housing addition. As I coasted through the neighborhood, I couldn't help but notice the Memorial Day cookouts and pool parties that seemed to be happening at each house I rode by. The streets and driveways of the community were crammed with parked vehicles. Virtually every front yard was filled with people in lawn chairs, talking, grilling and eating. Kids were playing wiffle ball, laughing, chasing each other--just enjoying the day.

I also couldn't help but notice that virtually every house was adorned with red, white and blue decorations. Most had an American flag flying. Fitting, considering the reason these people were gathered on this day.

I've attended solemn, reverent Memorial Day ceremonies at cemeteries and I've been to loud, celebratory Memorial Day parades, both of which honor the fallen members of our military in different, but equally noble ways. And yet, while I rode through that neighborhood and took in the scene around me, I couldn't help but think that these folks, out barbecuing, spending time with family and friends, simply enjoying life, are in a way paying tribute as well ... most likely without even realizing it.

They weren't attending a formal Memorial Day service, but in my view, the simple fact that kids can play safely in a neighborhood, the fact that people can gather together in celebration of a holiday without fear of attack, is a tribute to those heroes who so bravely sacrificed their own lives for the freedoms we now enjoy.

No other nation on the planet knows more freedoms or offers its citizens a greater sense of security than ours. We enjoy that safety and security only because of the military members who have so willingly put themselves in harm's way on our behalf. The sacrifice of those courageous men and women has given us a life they believed was worth dying for. It's now our responsibility as recipients of that life to live it to the fullest. We can't waste that precious gift, but rather, we must each day celebrate the incredible liberty and the incredible lives we have that would not be possible if not for those lives sacrificed in the name of freedom.

On Memorial Day, millions across our nation visited cemeteries, attended parades or took part in a service of some sort. Millions more took part in the National Moment of Remembrance, taking just one minute of the day to silently pay tribute to those who have lost their lives for our great nation. These events are an incredible and tremendous way to pay respect to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

But it's not enough to honor the fallen just one day each year; we must honor them each and every day by never taking for granted the freedoms they have given us, by taking advantage of the liberties we enjoy and, ultimately, by living each and every moment we have in this country to its absolute fullest.

I've never been one for ceremonies or crowds, and other than the National Moment of Remembrance, I really hadn't planned on taking part in any sort of formal Memorial Day service. Yet, as I pedaled my way around a cul-de-sac and out of the neighborhood, I couldn't help but feel that I had, in some way, attended a Memorial Day service.

There wasn't a parade or a band. There weren't any speeches or flyovers or moments of silence. But there were American citizens, simply living their lives in freedom, in security and in safety.

And that just might be the greatest tribute of all.