CHARLOTTE, N.C. _ The American flag in front of Eunice Eckard's house in Hickory, N.C. still flies at half-staff on a 20-foot pole. It has since that terrible morning back in February when three military men knocked at her door with news that Chris, her Marine bomb-disarming son, had been killed in Afghanistan.
"I know I was supposed to raise it after 30 days," Eckard, 61, said. "But my heart is still broken in two."
On this Memorial Day, Eckard and her son Chad plan to visit Chris's grave to talk to him, tell him how much they miss him. Then Eunice will go home and raise the flag to its proper spot.
Like many touched directly by war, her grief has reshaped her sense of the holiday _ a day not intended for mall sales or picnics, but to pay tribute to America's fallen.
From the eight minutemen who died in Lexington, Mass., in 1775, to the nearly 5,500 GIs who've been killed since 2001 by improvised explosive devices and insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, the last Monday in May is set aside to remember them.
Yet in recent years, the holiday has become the tail end of a three-day weekend, a day that informally trumpets the start of the summer season.
Not for 84-year-old Tom Burgess of Charlotte. He survived the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, when several friends didn't, and he fought his way to eastern Germany by war's end. Sixty-five years later, on a recent return to his old battlefield, Germans greeted him and four comrades as liberators, molding for Burgess a new meaning to the day.
For Bill Jacobsen Sr. of Charlotte, too, the holiday is intensely personal. He'll think of the pals he fought with in Vietnam who didn't come home. Yet now his thoughts will also be about his soldier son, Bill Jr., who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
They are the survivors, left to reflect on their losses.
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