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Katie Pinke, right, in 1989 with her friend, Sara, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Submitted photo)

Some gave all: A visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Every year around Memorial Day, my dad's relatives, Robert and Frieda Hammack, who lived in Idaho, traveled back to North Dakota in their camper. We would meet up in Wilton, N.D., where my grandma lived during my childhood years. I remember riding in a horse-drawn wagon in the Memorial Day parade with them, and in later years being a bystander watching, always wearing a poppy on my shirt.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the practice of wearing of poppies at Memorial Day takes its origin from the poem In Flanders Fields, written in 1915 by John McCrae.

The Hammacks had a reason for their Memorial Day visit to Wilton. We would go to the headstone of their son, Orla, at the Riverview cemetery there and visit. I knew Orla only as a cousin to my dad and son of Robert and Frieda who had died in the Vietnam War. But they taught me enough that Memorial Day was to remember Orla and all veterans who lost their lives for our freedoms and country.

Memorial Day parade memory (Photo used with permission from GriggsDakota.com)In the fourth grade, I traveled to Washington D.C., for the first time in my young life. We had traveled as a family in the late winter for a visit to my uncle and aunt's home in Baltimore and had brought my best friend, Sara, with us. My dad took a day to take only Sara and me to Washington D.C.

It was 1989. The first place my dad led us to was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I remember the path and walking along the National Mall.

At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, my dad took us to a book to find the location of his cousin's name on the wall. From a stand, I took a blank small sheet of white paper and pencil to etch the name on paper.

My dad had explained before we arrived what we were going to see, but the 58,000 names overwhelmed my young mind. Understanding each name represented a service member's life lost in Vietnam or Southeast Asia was difficult for me to comprehend. Each name is listed in the order they were killed and then in alphabetical order on the day they died. I could see my reflection as I stared at the names.

Dad found the name Orla Hammack — his cousin and Robert and Frieda's son — on Panel 9W, Line 23. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry. My bigger-than-life-to-me, 6-foot-8-inch, cowboy-boot-wearing dad put his fingers on Orla's name and wept. I'll never forget it.

I think of it at Memorial Day time. Sara and I etched his name on our piece of paper and also found a cousin's name of my mom's, Steven Hanson. Then my dad stood us in front of the wall and took our picture with the only point and shoot film camera our family used.

I texted Sara this past week and said, "Do you have the picture of us in front of the Vietnam Memorial Wall?"

Within minutes, she had sent it to me from a scrapbook. We're as stoic as a fourth and sixth grader could have been. It was a defining memory in my childhood.

While I didn't know it at the time but now understand as a parent myself, my dad carved that day out to show us sacrifice and give Sara and me a tiny glimpse into freedoms and what others gave for our country.

When I looked at the picture Sara sent, the Billy Ray Cyrus song of "Some Gave All" came to mind. I can't sing lyrics without crying. I think of my dad standing at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in 1989, of Robert and Frieda in the Wilton cemetery mourning their son's life lost and of the thousands of families who still mourn the loss of a service person at Memorial Day.

This Memorial Day, your communities may host a parade, program, speaker, luncheon or some type of event to remember those who gave all for the red, white and blue.

In a time when America needs to unite more than divide, let's gather on Memorial Day.

Bring your kids, a neighbor or a friend to your community event. Honor the veterans in attendance and most of all, remember those who are not. If you're reading this past Memorial Day, we still can always remember:

All gave some, some gave all

Some stood through for the red, white and blue

And some had to fall

And if you ever think of me

Think of all your liberties and recall

Some gave all

(Billy Ray Cyrus and Cindy Cyrus lyrics)

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