Memorial Day cuts deep for survivors of the nations war dead. Its not merely a three-day weekend, or rows of hamburgers sizzling on the grill.
For those with pain still fresh, or dredged up by memories, the day means one more pilgrimage to the grave one more cathartic moment to tell stories and reflect.
It is about the dozen men of Gibbon-Burke Camp No. 2 mustering at 9 a.m. Monday in the old section of Salisbury National Cemetery, where thousands of Union prisoners were hastily buried in trenches near the end of the Civil War.
The Gibbon-Burke Boys are descended from federal soldiers. They are not re-enactors, but assemble at the cemetery as they have for nine Memorial Days to honor the POWs who died from war wounds, disease or starvation at the infamous Confederate prison in Salisbury.
Like the past nine, their ceremony will be a brief, respectful tribute consisting of an invocation, speech-making and a bugler blowing taps in an open field where stones mark the mass graves.
Memorial Day was intended for such tributes.
If we dont recognize their sacrifice through this simple ceremony every year, then people will eventually forget, said camp commander Michael Thompson of Montgomery County, whose great-great-grandfather, Alonzo Aiken, was twice wounded fighting in northern Virginia with the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment.
The Civil War was a horrible conflict. There was a huge loss of life. We are all of one mind that we are going to remember and recognize on Memorial Days from here on out even if were the only ones there.
Personally, I just feel a connection to the past being there, and to the sacrifices my great-great-grandfather made.
Craig Hipkins, the camps secretary/treasurer, has every reason to be among them. His great-great-grandfather, George Sullivan, fought with the 57th Massachusetts Infantry, and his great-great-great-uncle, Cyrus Clapp, died at the second battle of Bull Run in Virginia.
I wouldnt be any other place, said Hipkins of Dallas in Gaston County, a veteran and 22-year transplant from Massachusetts. A lot of people watch a race and cook hamburgers and steak, and go about their lives on Memorial Day. I do that, too.
But I will always set off a portion of that day to remember why we have the day off.
Feels like its very recent
As he has for the past 40 years, Skip Gribble will set aside time Monday to visit with his brother, Bobby, buried in the family plot in Charlottes Evergreen Cemetery on Central Avenue.
Bobby was 23, an N.C. State graduate and father of two small daughters, when he joined the Army in 1970. He was eight months into a year-long tour when he was killed during a mine sweep operation in South Vietnam.
His parents died in 2004, still not knowing exactly what killed him.
He and Skip had long talked about running the family machine shop, Charlotte Machine Co., after Bobby came home.
Instead on March 29, 1971, Skip was working with his father at the business when his mother called. She wanted his father, but he wasnt there.
Maybe you better come home, she told her son, three years older than Bobby.
When he arrived, he saw the car with government tags. This is not good, he said he whispered.
His parents hastily bought a plot at Evergreen, near the grave of Bobby and Skips grandfather, former City Manager James Marshall. Uptowns Marshall Park bears his name.
Ten days later, Robert Marshall Gribble was buried.
In May that year, Skip started his traditional Memorial Day trek to his brothers grave. After the Mecklenburg County Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in November 1989, Skip and wife Nancy started visiting the memorial together on Memorial Day, tracing the letters of Bobbys name etched into the granite. Then Skip sets out for the grave alone.
When hes not in town, he visits both places as close to Memorial Day as possible.
Its been a long time, Skip said. But in some ways it feels like its very recent. It just leaves a void that you dont feel.
Being alone at the grave, he feels a closer connection. Often, he talks to Bobby.
Its a part of my life, Skip said. I know people move on. But theres no reason why you cant take a few minutes out to remember and reflect.
I know that spiritually my brothers with me all the time. But humans need to connect to physical things even if its letters on a wall, or a plaque in the ground.
The right place to be
As they will forever more, Richard and Tammy OBrien on this Memorial Day have made the 400-mile drive from their Gaston County home in Stanley to Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
There, theyll set up folding chairs and spend the day in section 60, plot No. 9520. That is where son Nicholas is buried.
Eleven months ago, on June 9, Marine Lance Cpl. Nic OBrien was point man on foot patrol in southern Afghanistan when an IED (improvised explosive device) blew up under him.
His burial at Arlington 19 days later drew 300 relatives and friends from Gaston County, and even then-retiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
For the OBriens and daughter Haley, Arlington and Nics grave have been somberly woven into their lives. They feel the pull to make the trip every six weeks.
We stay at the same hotel near the cemetery, said Richard OBrien, himself a former Marine. The people there are beginning to know us by name.
This is a particularly tough time of the year: Nics birthday was May 23, Memorial Day this year follows five days later, and then theres June 9 around the corner.
Three significant days in a 31/2-week period, Richard said. Wed love to be at Arlington for every one, but its not feasible. Memorial Day is the one we chose, just because of the meaning of the holiday.
It will always hold a special place in our hearts.
Yet theyll likely make the drive again on June 9, the first anniversary of being without Nic.
His squad mates have been good to the OBriens. On Mothers Day, several sent Tammy flowers.
One has flown to Washington to be with the OBriens on Monday. Another Marine, Nics best friend Josh Cawthorn of Hendersonville, nearly died in the blast. He lost an eye. He is back in Washington for another eye surgery to reconstruct his socket. He, too, will join the family.
Theyve packed food, so theyll sit and talk quietly about Nic. And catch up on his pals in the unit. Or visit with other families. Since Nic was buried at the end of a row of about 100 graves, five more rows have been filled largely with casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan.
A big piece of Nic is always going to be there, Richard said. Its the last time we saw the casket that contains his body. As parents, its heart-breaking, but its cathartic.
It feels like the right place to be on Memorial Day.