Memorial Day represents one of those commemorative federal holidays that seems to get lost in meaning for some citizens. We share meals at picnics and barbecues. We open pools for the first time. We mow our grass and watch a little television in the afternoon. Some of us attend memorial services, watch a parade, or buy a poppy to wear in memory of those who served and died.
Unlike Veterans Day which honors all who have provided military service to the United States of America, Memorial Day is about remembering all those who have lost their lives in service to our country. From the American Revolution to the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, men and women have given the supreme sacrifice. Memorial Day is their day of remembrance.
I remember well from my own youth the most controversial war (labeled a conflict at the time because it was not a declared war) of the 20th century, the Vietnam Conflict. According to History.com, the average age of the 58,000 + killed in military service during the Conflict was 23.2 years. Over 11,000 of those killed were less than 20 years of age. Today, the average age of those dying in service in Iraq and Afghanistan is closer to 25 years of age according to the New York Times. However, those who have died on average are not long out of high school, college, or away from their first job before they were lost to us in service of our country.
I was raised on stories of World War II by a mother and father who both served in that Great War of the 20th Century. My mother will honor the loss of “brothers and sisters” in arms on May 31 just as she has done for as long as I can remember. She reminds her family every year that Memorial Day is not a holiday of celebration but a day of consecration and remembrance. She reminds us that this is not a day to honor her service but to honor all those who lost the opportunity to start and raise families, hold grandchildren, become college graduates, enjoy a career, argue politics, watch major league baseball, celebrate anniversaries of friends, sing in choirs and grow old watching the world change around them. At age 89, she does not forget that all she has enjoyed since she left the service in 1946 was taken away from so many during that war.
My mother also reminds me why it is important for my generation and her grandchildren to remember that Memorial Day is not about the living but about those who died for the Declaration of Independence- the Constitution- the Bill of Rights of the United States of America. She reminds me that communities of responsibility in this country have sent their young into war over hundreds of years. Our men and women serve the United States of America not just to protect our own nation but to extend that protection to others less fortunate who live in countries where freedom is not just denied but where the basics of humanity we hold dear are threatened and in peril. It’s why we teach our young people about Memorial Day beginning in elementary school.
I hope you will join me in honoring those who have died in military service to our community, state and nation for still…
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… (J McCrae, 1919)