MANCHESTER, Conn. — Speaking on a live video feed from Afghanistan Friday, U.S. Army Maj. Timothy Christensen told his daughter, Emily, and her fellow Bennet Academy students about his personal struggle to capture the meaning of Memorial Day.
Now on his third deployment, Christensen spoke about the history of the holiday, how it began in 1868 as Decoration Day and was held in May so flowers for veterans' graves would be in bloom across the nation.
Christensen first asked his daughter, 11, and wife, Charlene, to stand. Then he asked all veterans in the school gymnasium to stand. Several people stood, including active duty service members in uniform. Then Christensen asked all those with relatives who have served in the miitary to stand, and nearly the entire assembly rose.
"Every one you see standing here sacrificed something for your freedom," Christensen said.
A member of the Army Reserves, Christensen's civilian career is at The Travelers, where he works in the accounting department, Charlene Christensen said. A specialist in transportation systems, Timothy Christensen is working on developing and extending Afghanistan's railroad system.
He was first sent to Iraq and Kuwait in 2004, to Afghanistan in 2011 and again to Afghanistan last June, his wife said. He is due to return to the U.S. in July.
After his first two tours, the Manchester native, 41, said he "did some soul-searching" about how to honor friends he had lost. He said he decided not to mourn, but to celebrate their courage and sacrifice and keep their memory "bright in my heart." Christensen quoted Gen. George S. Patton, who said, "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
America's military, he said, "did not fight to conquer the world, but to liberate it." The father of two (son Ethan is 9) challenged the assembled students, all sixth-graders, to think about the meaning of Memorial Day and the values shown by those who have served.
Emily Christensen then presented a flag that had flown over an American military base in Afghanistan to Bennet Principal Joseph Chella. Each student had been given a small American flag when the assembly began. When they were dismissed from the gym, students filed out to the school's front lawn and planted the flags under the school sign.