Memorial Day is a day for memories. We remember those who fought and died in our many wars. We also remember those who fought and survived, those who were willing to die for their country.
Memorial Day has always been a meaningful day in our family. It’s not just a day for barbecue and beer or a long weekend off. It’s a day we have observed because we understand what it is up close and personal.
My father was in the military. He fought in both World War II in Europe and the Korean War. My husband fought in World War II in the Pacific. For them, it has always been a day to remember their fallen comrades and friends and to remember those who were severely wounded as well.
When I was growing up, we often lived on Army posts where Memorial Day was celebrated for real, most memorably at Fort Myer, at Arlington National Cemetery.
During the week before and the day of commemoration, we would see the soldiers, the honor guards, planting flags by each grave, and we would see the wreath being laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We would hear taps being played on the parade ground.
Most recently for me, as editor-in-chief of “On Faith,” Memorial Day has become a day to remember other things as well. I think of the many people of all faiths and no faith who fought and died. I think of the Christians and Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Mormons and Wiccans and atheists and agnostics and I wonder why they all can’t be respected equally in this country for the sacrifices they have made.
I think of the African Americans who, until way into the last century, were segregated in the military. I think of the gay men and women who had to pretend they were not gay for so long to be able to serve and who are still discriminated against every day in the military. I think of the women who have been and still are being sexually assaulted in the military by their comrades, most too afraid to even report their rapes for fear of being punished, ostracized or relieved of duty.
I think the military should be the most honorable profession we have. Sadly “Duty, Honor, Country” has come to be meaningless to many in the military academies and those who are serving. The many honorable people in the military are tarnished by the actions of a few, but those few are growing in number, and until very recently, those actions have not garnered the kind of attention they deserve.
On this Memorial Day, I will also think of those wounded veterans who are not getting the care or support, financially or emotionally, they need from our government. I will think of the severe hardships military families go through with little or no support. I know. I have been there. I have watched my father go off to war. I have experienced the pain of separation of families, mine included. I know the fear of losing your parent or spouse and being terrified of seeing a military escort pull up to the front door. I know what it’s like when you don’t have a lot of money and your mother is trying to scrape by with sick children alone. I have been there when friend’s fathers have not come back from war, when boyfriends have been killed.
One more thing: When you are in the military you go to war when you are ordered to do so. “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die,” is not a far-fetched slogan. You go to war even if you don’t believe in that war, even if you feel that this war is morally wrong, even if you think you will give up your life for nothing. You go to war because you are told, despite the fact that your commanders or the politicians may not be telling the truth to you or the American people. You are prepared to sacrifice your life for your country, even if your country is not prepared to sacrifice for you. You fight because you believe in a cause that is bigger than yourself.
You won’t hear any grand and moving speeches about these things this Memorial Day. It’s important for our country to make this a feel good day, not only for ourselves as Americans but for the politicians who represent us. We will be marching in parades, waving our flags and singing the national anthem.
But while you are enjoying your day off and your fried chicken and potato salad, just remember:
For all of the reasons above, we must honor those who are honorable and who have the courage and the fortitude to do what they believe is right, regardless of whether or not they are rewarded.
For all of these reasons, we must remember those who fought and those who died.
Memorial Day is for them.