Beginning a New Memorial Day Tradition with TAPS

Author: Allicia Johnson

I'm a D.C. girl … well … sort of. I was born at Bethesda Naval Hospital to a D.C.-native dad and transplant-from-Utah mom. My East Coast roots grow deep even though I only spent six months of my life there. Dad was stationed in Pearl Harbor when I was 6 months old and was shot and killed in action when I was 2 years old. From that point on, Utah has been my home.

Allicia Johnson

My front door is exactly 2,111 miles from Arlington National Cemetery. Dad was awarded the unwanted honor of being buried there among heroes at the tender age of 28. It's tough not being able to visit his grave. I can count on one hand the times I went back to D.C. to visit him there, and that includes the day of his funeral. This Memorial Day weekend starts my count on the other hand. 

Burr JohnsonMy visits in the past have been with close family and friends; each time the focus was on two small, white headstones engraved with the names Burr N. Johnson Jr. and III. 

Regardless of the circumstances, my companions always stood in support of and concern for me and what emotions the visit to graves of beloved strangers, Daddy and Grandpa, were triggering. Visits to Arlington have always stirred deep confusing and powerful emotions - and I hate tearing myself away even if I know I'll return before heading back to Utah. 

This Memorial Day weekend I will officially become part of the TAPS family. 

This Memorial Day will be different. The focus will not be just on me and two white headstones; I get to walk the hallowed rows of Arlington with other tender hearts. This time I'll stand in support and concern of little strangers and peers who all leave a piece of themselves behind, just as I do as we cross Memorial Bridge toward D.C. 

This Memorial Day brings dear friends I've never met in person from the TAPS family as well as Dad's former shipmate and his wife to visit Dad's resting place with me. 

 Allicia and brotherThis Memorial Day marks a new chapter in my life where I understand the importance of grief, where I've allowed myself to really get to know my dad and what happened to him despite the pain it caused. This Memorial Day I will stand for the first time at his graveside no longer as a victim but as his daughter who followed his courageous example by facing my fear and pain of his death and allowing it to transform into a bittersweet part of my legacy.

Photos courtesy of Allicia Johnson