What is Memorial Day…really?

I often wonder…how we truly understand Memorial Day. It is a day off for many…a day to cook-out, have family over to spend time, go to the lake, or just work in the yard.

What is Memorial Day? For years I used to mix up this national holiday with Veterans Day…until I became a journalist.

I remember the first time I was sent to capture a story of a family that just lost a loved one while serving. Serving in the Armed Forces was something I want to do…really bad. I was one of the first in my family not to serve. I wanted to fly planes in the Navy…but one little thing held me back. I have asthma and this 5’10” with a mathematics degree could not even get past the recruiter, even though majority of my family had served in each of the armed forces.

I remember that first time…that first visit. I remember knocking on the door, hoping that they would not be overly upset that a group of journalist wanted to interview them just hours after they learned they lost a loved one.

We knew…never go to the door with a camera. Always knock on the door with lots of compassion and earn trust. We always shared “our little pitch”…our goal is to help memorialize his memory.

Were we memorializing or just leveraging that moment in time to use as content to gain an audience. At the time…I did not have language for the ethical dilemma faced. But as time grew…stories were produced…I began to realize the distance between my ethical dilemma and the stories I was producing for digital equity was getting ready to crash.

What is Memorial Day? Is it a day to honor those who have fallen in order to provide the very blanket of freedom we enjoy everyday? Including that same freedom we call freedom of the press?

I remember this one story…always remember. His name was Staff Seargent Jason Ramseyer and his family will be forever changed. His family allowed a team from WCNC-TV to come spend the afternoon with them…to share a small piece of his story.

The photojournalist working on the story was only given a few hours to help produce this story for a same day turn around. This story needed a little more attention…a little more commitment than just an afternoon to produce this story.

Memorial Day has always stuck with me…and this story has always helped me distinguish the importance of this day from all other days in the year. I never met his family. But I knew on that day when it was decided to give this story a little extra something…I knew I had to help memorialize this one story. As my ethical dilemma wavered, I have always thought about this story, and that it would bring some resolve for all the other times I knocked on those doors asking a family to allow us to tell their story. I am glad I helped re-produce this story back in 2006.

Today is not like any other day…it is Memorial Day. I just hope we Memorialize those who lost their lives while serving this very nation we call home. No more…no less.

***This story was originally produced for WCNC-TV by a team including Anna Crowley, Kevin Ridley, Allison Andrews, and Bobby Rettew.  

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