I have a hard time with this Holiday. Well, to be more specific – I have a hard time with the way the Holiday is “celebrated” these days.
Is it me, or for many people, has Memorial Day just become the signal to the start of Summer…a day off work which creates a three day weekend filled with BBQ and picnics and trips to the beach? Oh, sure – we give a cursory thought to Veterans, in between making the potato salad and firing up the grill. We’re thankful – I’m not insinuating otherwise – but then, after a brief pause – we get on with the fun, right?
*sigh* That’s not how it was supposed to be.
I’ll spare you all the details on the History of the Holiday, but suffice it to say that prior to the governmental decision to change the original date so as to create this “Three Day Weekend”, Memorial Day carried a much more somber tone.
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service.
Since the Civil War. DIED. Not served – that’s Veterans Day. I’m a big fan of Veterans Day, because we can ACTUALLY thank a living, breathing person for their military service.
But today is for those who can’t enjoy a burger, or a trip to the beach.
Today is for those who are missed every minute of every day by families who try to struggle on with life without them.
Today is for those whose faded photos may sit atop fireplace mantels a a “familial decoration” to the younger generations of their family.
Today is for those whose graves are unmarked, whose families have long since forgotten their pain, their anguish, how their young lives were cut short…for no other reason but that they chose to defend the freedoms of American citizens by carrying out the directives of those who govern our nation.
Now, I thought carefully about how I worded that last phrase. For a moment, forget patriotism; forget flag waving; forget heroism; forget pride. I think those sentiments are misplaced today. They are NOBLE sentiments, to be sure. It is necessary to our survival as a country that men and women with honor, bravery and courage volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces. Their presence and readiness and training and will to fight if required IS what keeps us safe.
But when they are gone; when they passed from this Earth as a result of a gunshot or an explosion or a bayonet wound or an airplane crash or drowning or a failed parachute opening in the case of my brother, Rock…then they are gone. No amount of patriotism can bring them back, and the horror and pain of death overtakes all. Sure, we can be proud of their willingness to serve, of the sacrifice of self they gave in putting on a uniform at all…but all the flagwaving in the world will not change the stark reality.
Lest you think that I am leaning toward the traitorous in my thinking, please be assured that the very opposite is the case. I’ll spare you the Roll Call, but suffice it to say that nearly every male member (and a few female cousins) in both my family and my husband’s has served in the United States Armed Forces…some back to and including the Civil and Revolutionary Wars. I spent 33 years of my life as either a Navy Brat or a Navy Wife. I am patriotic, I am proud, and if my son Liam chooses to someday serve, I will support him with my whole heart in that decision.
But if he does, then I will treat every day like I do Memorial Day; as a day of prayer for our leaders and the leaders of the nations of the world.
I will pray that they reflect on the raw, painful meaning of this day.
I pray that they look into the faces of those in service, who are still alive, and review more carefully every decision made that will affect them.
That they would put aside arrogance, greed and pride and put the highest value on life.
That they would afford those who serve the best equipment, best training and best support available in return for their service.
That they would do all in their power to keep safe those who keep US safe.
*sigh* Okay, I’m down off my soap box. Yeah, I’m going to grill out today, and make potato salad. I’m also going to go the cemetery and put flowers and a flag on my brother’s grave…and wish we could have a burger and a beer together. Or, maybe some corn on the cob…
( “To help re-educate and remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution was passed on Dec 2000 which asks that at 3 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of Remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to ‘Taps.”)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
on 3 May 1915 (World War I)
after he witnessed the death of his friend,
Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, 22 years old,
the day before.
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
1915 – Written by US Professor Moina Michael,
inspired by the poem “In Flanders Field”