For many people around the nation, including Laramie residents Rebecca and Al Walsch, Memorial Day can be very personal.
Despite joining the army through different paths, both Walsches came out of it with many of the same feelings about how it shaped their relationships with fellow service members as well as holidays like Memorial Day.
“It’s not just a flag in a cemetery to me, it’s a name and a face,” Rebecca told the Boomerang earlier this week.
While a time for remembering lives lost, they said they also try to focus on more positive aspects, too. They also use the holiday as a chance to “personally connect with old friends” from their deployments to reminisce and catch up.
“We have really tight relationships that were formed during deployments when you’re kind of suffering together and experiencing this together,” Rebecca said. “In a way, it’s remembering those that we lost and those friendships that no longer exist, but also those that we might’ve lost contact with and remembering all those fun times and positive experiences.”
Both Rebecca and Al were deployed to Iraq multiple times. Al, born and raised in Wyoming, said he went on active duty in 2003 and was an infantry officer deployed to Iraq three times through 2012.
A bit more unconventional, Rebecca said she joined as she was training for the biathlon — a contest of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship — hoping to one day make the Olympics. While never quite making the Olympic team, she said her time with the military and her deployments ended up impacting her more than she ever expected.
“I think that shift in me from being a selfish, spoiled athlete to an army officer prepared me for a lot of things,” she said. “It prepared me for motherhood with my own children, and it also prepared me to own a business and be able to manage time and resources and people.”
She met Al in the ROTC program at the University of Wyoming as she finished her degree. Rebecca now owns Laramie’s Basecamp downtown, having retired from the national guard as a Major last year.
The two spent a good chunk of the early parts of their relationship deployed at different times in different places but the timing did finally allow them to be deployed at the same time for the last one. Despite finally being in the same country, they still didn’t get to see each other much until the last four months.
Even for those without any military background or personal connection to lives lost, Al said it’s important to think about how society has historically commemorated the national holiday. Started after the end of the Civil War, Al noted the large number of soldiers that died in wars throughout the holiday’s history was “a much bigger, noticeable hole in society.”
“I think we can lose sight of that today,” he said. “We’ve celebrated this sacrifice that people have made on our behalf going back so far, and you just feel connected in that way.”
When using the word celebrate, Al was quick to note he didn’t mean in “a Fourth of July kind of a way” but more as an acknowledgment that many fallen soldiers would not want their loved ones to be somber and sad, but instead celebrate their life lived.
“Both of those things are appropriate, and everything in between, because it’s how we all come to grips with this experience and deal with the fact that war is a very painful, difficult thing that a lot of people have died for,” Al said. “We don’t want to forget that.”
Helping to keep the memory alive for future generations, Rebecca said Memorial Day is also a great opportunity to have conversations with their children about the holiday’s meaning and significance.
“That gives us a chance to talk to them about our experiences and to kind of just emphasize that there are people still serving, too,” she said. “We can’t forget people who are deployed right now and who are in scary places and doing hard things.”