Military Appreciation Month recognizes the commitment and sacrifice of active and retired service members, their spouses and children, the honored dead, and the loved ones who survive them.
To honor the soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and guardsmen who gave their lives in service to the nation, Memorial Day observances include a unique, meaningful custom: the flag is raised at dawn, then ceremoniously lowered to half-staff. There it remains until midday, when it is again raised briskly to full height and flown at peak until sunset (4 U.S.C. §7). This custom is meant as a gesture of respect and remembrance for the fallen, a symbol of hope after loss, and a promise to carry the Nation forward in the name of those service members who have died.
Here, David Buchanan, USAF, shares one way he and his family honored that that promise, and managed the subsequent challenge of deployment, together:
I'm an active duty Air Force father and I have a story I would like to share. My seven-year-old daughter, Emaline Grace, has three American Girl dolls, and while I was packing my things for my remote tour here in Thule, Greenland, she brought one of her dolls in and sat on my bed while I loaded uniforms and cold weather gear into my duffel bag.
She took my hand and said since she couldn't come to Greenland with me that she wanted me to take her doll with me. She explained if she couldn't see all of the things Daddy was going to see, and she couldn't come spend time with me, then at least her doll could. Choking back tears, I agreed and promised to send pictures of her doll everywhere I went. That night Emaline and I got online and ordered a winter outfit for her so that her doll would stay warm.
A few days later I kissed her and her brother goodbye and boarded an airplane bound for Baltimore where I would catch a military rotator to Greenland. I snapped my first photo of her doll at the airport in Boise where I departed, and then again in Chicago for my layover, and again in Baltimore. I took photos all along the way to Thule Air Base, 950 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
So far, her doll has traveled across the country and beyond. She has seen abandoned Nuke Missile silos, stood inside Cold War bunkers, and planted her feet on the Polar Ice Cap. She's been aboard Danish Search and Rescue ships, aboard ocean liners, dipped her toes in the flowing water of a glacial stream, and ridden an ATV to the coast to see musk ox herds grazing.
She sat in the truck when we saw a polar bear, stood on the shoreline when we watched a pod of seals in the bay, rode a helicopter to native villages on the outreaches of the ice, and explored a cavernous ice cave. She has been a trooper the entire way, riding shotgun in my hiking pack, braving the environment just like I have. We did have to have a custom-made parka made for her, as Emaline wanted her doll to match Daddy!
I have taken pictures of most of these moments, and most of my military friends isolated up here with me have commented or remarked on the doll or reminded me sternly to remember to bring her when we've made plans to go out. I email the pictures to Emaline, and we get a chance to talk about where her doll has been and what she has seen.
It has helped bridge the gap that is sometimes difficult to fathom when you leave your children behind. Having this bond has brightened an otherwise bleak tour for me and has helped me (probably more than my daughter) weather this difficult time.
I've attached a picture of many I’ve taken. Hopefully it helps you understand all of this and how thankful I am.
USAF Active Duty
Thank you, David Buchanan, for sharing your story and photos. Most importantly, thank you—and everyone who has contributed to the Nation’s military—for honoring those who came before you by answering the call to serve.