Today and everyday at Sword & Plough, we pay our respects to the brave men and women who gave their lives in defense of our country. We encourage you to reflect and learn more about the service members who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Their legacy will live on not just in the work they accomplished on and off the battlefield, but in the shared memories and stories told that capture their essence and spirit.
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
“Happy Memorial Day!”
I’m going to be honest…each year as Memorial Day approaches it’s tough to preface the weekend with an adjective as powerful as “happy.” While it’s not a terrible thing to view the holiday as “the kickoff to summer” or an excuse to BBQ, the premise behind the day is to honor the men and women who never made it home. To remember the service members who have died while serving in the United States military for our country’s freedom. For me, Memorial Day is a day of reflection.
Seven years ago, my husband and I were reaching the end of his first operational assignment in Idaho. I vividly remember him coming home one evening and talking about the new aviators and their families that had shown up to the squadron, and how there was one lieutenant in particular that stood out to him. “He has a wife, a 3 year old little boy and 7 month old baby girl…” and that was all I needed to hear. While my mind played back memories of the past three years, I instantly knew why this family stood out to him. It was as if they had copied a page out of the beginning of our story there in Idaho.
I had the pleasure of meeting the lieutenant’s wife, Tami, a few days later at a spouse coffee and shared how fun it was to hear about the commonality in their current stage of life. As we chatted, other similarities arose, in everything from our sense of humors to favorite hobbies. As military spouses often do, we quickly got to know each other and shared countless stories, laughs and parenting advice over a hot glue gun and chipboard crafts. Tami was my final goodbye as we pulled out of town in January 2012. We hugged, joked about how much “fun” a 2,652 mile car trip was going to be with kids and encouraged each other to stay positive over the next few months as both of us were preparing for our spouse’s impending deployments.
Tami (and her two young kids) waved goodbye to her husband, Captain Dee “Piston” Imlay on March 13, 2012. Two weeks later, on March 28th, she received news that the F-15E Strike Eagle he was piloting went down a few miles away from the base at which he was deployed. Her husband was gone.
In the days, weeks and months that followed, I watched Tami heroically navigate single parenthood while enduring the grieving process. I spoke with fellow squadron spouses that vigilantly sat, assisted and supported her in every facet necessary. Through pictures, I wept seeing my friend sitting on a cold, metal folding chair at her husband’s memorial services, holding her kids as they were handed a neatly folded flag that they instantly hugged tight. I read her words describing how powerful it was to see the 4-ship of F-15E Strike Eagles pass over in the missing man formation at Dee’s gravesite, which was beautifully marked with a single white headstone etched with “beloved husband and Daddy.” However, through the midst of indescribable sadness, shock and grief, I witnessed Tami’s testimony and faith grow stronger day by day, leaving many in awe of how she continually approached each day with a “choose JOY” attitude.
This March marked five years since Piston’s passing. On his “angel-versary” (as his kids call it) Tami said, “Today we honor a good man who put others first without them even realizing it. A man who, though didn't show it on his face most of the time, was so happy. I have seen such beauty from this sad moment. Not just in my family's life, but in others that he touched and in some that never even met Dee.” Tami has kept Dee’s legacy alive by becoming an active member for the T.A.P.S (Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors) Organization, supported several Team RWB runs in honor of Dee “Bold Tiger 443” and has even gone back to school to become a counselor, working specifically with marriage, family and children, with an emphasis on grief and high stress. She has chosen to see the event as a gift to help others.
This Memorial Day, reflect and remember all of the men and women who have sacrificed their lives, and also the families who honor their memories every day.