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Honoring The Meaning of Memorial Day

After a harsh winter and a cold spring, everyone in the state of Maine (and all over the northeast for that matter) is looking forward to a Memorial Day Weekend packed with good food and good times in the warm weather we’ve all been waiting for. At Backyard Farms, our hard-working team is excited for an extra day off but we also feel it’s important to remember the reason for the holiday. In the past, we’ve shared photos of American flags or poppies in our greenhouse in an effort to acknowledge the true meaning of Memorial Day. This year, after learning about the Maine Fallen Heroes Foundation, we're inspired to share some important information and the stories of three Mainers who gave their lives so that we have the freedom to enjoy ours.

The Maine Fallen Heroes Fondation is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice and providing financial and emotional support to the families they left behind. Scrolling the photos of the men and women on the Maine Fallen Heroes Facebook Page is a powerful, humbling experience. Many of the photos are portraits with the American flag in the background. In these portraits, some of the soldiers are smiling. The energy and passion on their faces tells you that they're not merely doing their jobs, they’re fulfilling their dreams. Other soldiers look straight at the camera. Their faces are stoic but when you look at their eyes, you can practically feel their pride and sense of purpose. There are personal photos, too—a proud father posing with his young daughter, a handsome young man in full military dress standing with a beautiful young lady in a blue dress, soldiers in their military fatigues with mountains, deserts, helicopters or tanks in the background.

At some point in their lives, all of the soldiers in the photos called Maine home and sadly, and in many cases tragically, all of them died while serving our country in the armed forces.

Soldiers like Specialist Dustin J. Harris of Bangor, Maine.

In 2002, Dustin graduated from Katahdin High School in Stacyville where he was an outstanding soccer player. After attending Eastern Maine Technical College in Bangor for two years, Dustin enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 2004 and earned his wings as a qualified paratrooper.

While serving in Iraq, Dustin received numerous awards including, a Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge, Combat Action Badge and Weapons Qualification Badge. He died in 2006 when an improvised explosive device detonated. He was 21 years old.

Soldiers like Chief Master Sergeant Denise E. (Grenier) Mikolajczyk

Denise was born in Lewiston and graduated from Edward Little High School in 1979. After working as an EKG Technician at Central Maine General Hospital in Lewiston, Denise joined the United States Air Force in 1982. Over the next twenty-seven years, Denise rose to the rank of Master Sergeant and served in Japan, Germany, Qatar, Al Deid, Turkey, Florida, Kansas and South Carolina. She was stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia when she died unexpectedly, leaving behind her two sons, her mother, an extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. According to her obituary: “Denise exemplified the United States Air Force Chief's Creed. Her devotion to duty and personal integrity were consistently above reproach and she wore her uniform and rank with dignity and pride.”

Soldiers like Sgt. Jason W. Swiger

24-year old Sgt. Swiger was handing out candy to a group of children in Baqubah, Iraq when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device that killed him and three other soldiers. Known as "The Joker" for both his exceptional sense of humor as well as his favorite song to sing during his regular karaoke performances, more than 400 people attended the funeral of the South Portland native. Inspired by his uncle, a former member of the 82nd Airborne, Jason wanted to join the Army ever since he was a boy and became a paratrooper in the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In 2003, Jason’s mother led an unsuccessful campaign to place yellow ribbons on utility poles in South Portland to honor soldiers serving in the Iraq War. After his death in 2004, the City Council waived their regulation and for 31 days, the City of South Portland was “awash in hundreds of yellow ribbons” in honor of Swiger and Marine Lance Corporal Angel Rosa, a fellow South Portland resident who was killed in Iraq just two weeks before Jason.

These three heroes are among the thousands of Americans who gave their lives while serving and protecting our country. At Backyard Farms, we've shared the link to the The Maine Fallen Heroes Foundation website with all of our employees. Whether they choose to simply spend some time learning about the men and women memorialized there or make a donation is entirely up to them. This Memorial Day, we respectfully invite all of our customers, partners and friends to do the same.

Because while cook-outs, road trips and parties are wonderful ways to celebrate the "unofficial start of summer," paying tribute to fallen heroes like Dustin, Denise, and Jason is what the true meaning of Memorial Day is all about. To those three Mainers, and all of the brave men and women who died while serving our country in the Armed Forces, we at Backyard Farms say a heartfelt "thank you."