KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Liberty Memorial's special Memorial Day ceremony honored people who have served, are still serving and those who died for their country. They also honored the Gold Star Mothers who have lost sons in combat.
One such mother, Debbie Collins, says it meant a lot to her to honor her son Cale Miller, although she says he would be embarrassed by all the attention. She says he's probably the one who sent the rain, because he was always a prankster. But he was always the sunshine in her life.
At the ceremony, his name is read aloud: Pfc. Cale Miller. His life summed up in a few words: athlete, musician, student. He graduated from Olathe Northwest. He loved his dogs and fast cars and the Army. One year ago, he was killed in combat in Afghanistan by an IED.
Debbie says she was shocked when her son came home from college one day and said he'd decided to join the Army.
"I can't say I was the most supportive Army mom at that time," she says. But she became supportive after realizing that the Army wasn't just a whim decision, it was a calling. After he died, she found out why.
"I can't tell you how many of the men he served with who came to me and said, 'He was my best friend, the guy who picked you up when you were feeling down,'" she said. "So we have gotten to know many of his squad mates and his platoon members and they're all our sons now. The Army is a big family."
This year was the first time Debbie and Dave Collins attended the Memorial Day ceremony at Liberty Memorial. They say Memorial Day used to be about barbecues and spending time with family, but now the meaning of this day has forever changed.
"In the past, you view it as statistics and the number killed," said Miller's father Dave Collins. "I know the impact his passing has had on our lives and the community, and when you multiply that by the numbers and the guys wounded, it's pretty staggering and humbling."
Debbie Collins says that day last year, when she found out her son was killed, was a tough one. She didn't want to spend the day of his death thinking about how sad she was one year ago, so her family decided to honor Cale by doing something he loved: riding on the roller coasters at Worlds of Fun.
"We know he was with us on those rides and that was important," she said. "Rather than remembering blow by blow what happened the day he died."