Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Is this a holiday? I don't think so. We are remembering those who made the sacrifice.

Rich Landeck used to be a typical American. He knew what Memorial Day was for: Beach trips. Barbecues. Blow-out mattress sales.

There was a time when he wouldn't have flinched at the e-mail he recently received from a ham company urging him to celebrate Memorial Day with honey-smoked meat. When he wouldn't have fired off that rebuking letter to the Geneva resort that was courting customers with Memorial Day fun rates.

"I was as guilty as anybody until this happened to me," he said one night last week. "It took something like this to make me realize Memorial Day is not a day of celebration."

Landeck was speaking on the phone from his home in Wheaton. His wife, Vicki, was with him, along with their daughter Jennifer, until she choked up and had to walk away.
In February, 2007, the Landecks' only son, Kevin, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. His death made big news in Chicago.

Kevin had been a kid who loved squirt guns; a teenage prankster who did Chris Farley impressions; a Purdue University graduate who hoped to work for the FBI.

And then, as swift as an explosion, he was gone.

"We find that it doesn't get any easier," Rich Landeck said. "We accept it more, I think, but the shock of it is still there."

This is the Landecks' fourth Memorial Day without their son. But just as the holiday sales make them cringe, the rituals of remembering make them sad.

They'll go to the Wheaton cemetery on Monday, but they'll skip everything else, including the big memorial in Chicago on Saturday.

"Rich said he'd like to see Mayor Daley and Maggie and say hello," said Vicki. "They were very gracious to us. But we just can't do it anymore."

Kevin Landeck would be 29 now. His parents still can't fathom the political cause for which he died. They believe the war in Iraq was wrong. But they're careful to make two things clear.

Rich: "I don't want people to feel that we feel we're owed anything. We certainly aren't. Kevin chose to do this."

Vicki: "Everyone in our community has been so great. We try to go to all those memorial things. But every time we leave them, it's like, 'Oh, my God, that was so hard.' "

They find it easier to pass by one of the fixed memorials to Kevin. The bench dedicated to him in Seven Gables Park. The rock inscribed to him at the 17th hole of Arrowhead Golf Club, where he worked when he was a student.

In June, they'll hold the fourth Capt. Kevin C. Landeck Memorial Golf Outing at Arrowhead. Raising money for good causes in Kevin's name makes them feel a little better.

Occasionally, the Landecks think of getting together with the parents of other Wheaton soldiers who died in Iraq. It never quite happens.

"It makes it more sad," Vicki said, "because they're sad, too."

On Memorial Day, Rich and Vicki may sit in the backyard overlooking the garden they planted in Kevin's honor. And yet, even it has shadows.

Vicki was working in the garden Thursday when it hit her, the way it sometimes hits her husband out of the blue, "Oh, my God, I'm never going to see my son again."

Memorial Day is many things. It is about beach trips and barbecues and blow-out mattress sales.
But most of all, it's about soldiers whose deaths ripple through lives for years.

Mary Schmich
Chicago Tribune
May 30, 2010


soniap said...

Mary Schmich writes the best columns--I say Amen! to this one. For the first year in many Memorial Days, I really "got" the reason we have this day. Thank you to all the men and women in uniform who have given their lives to serve our country.

Spirit Bear said...

Thank you for the comment! Isn't it funny that I bought the paper Sunday and read her column? I sent it to China - she said they are getting no news.