On this Memorial Day, I am reminded that while our young people remain home from school, it’s an opportunity for their first teachers, parents, to actively engage in sharing the significance of Memorial Day as a national holiday. Memorial Day, unlike Veterans Day, is a day of remembrance of those who gave up their lives in service to the United States of America. Today, all of us who live as U.S. citizens, some who have fought for our nation, and many who have not, are called to remind ourselves and others that the supreme sacrifice of a few preserves liberty for the many.
America has been involved in a string of wars in our own country, on this continent, and abroad since the American Revolution launched us as a fledgling country into our fight for independence. Despite this first war of our nation and the second that followed in 1812, the United States became an ally of Great Britain and our soldiers alongside the Brits fought the two great wars of the 20th century, World Wars I and II. We have fought in wars that have been well supported by our citizenry and some that have engendered conflicts of note within that same citizenry.
Over the two and a half centuries of our existence as a nation, soldiers have gone into battle for people in distant countries of seeming insignificance to the United States. Soldiers have fought to protect the rights of Americans to oppose the very war in which they themselves serve. They’ve laid down their lives in staggering numbers so that we may go safely to work each day, choose to worship or not, and speak a range of political opinions despite who is in power. We have celebrated U.S. Memorial Day since 1868 to honor those who have died in service of us.
It’s difficult to find a family in America, current immigrants included, that has not had or does not have a service member in their midst. I walk the cemetery where my father lies under a Veterans Administration memorial plaque and I think of his service today. My mother’s name is already imprinted on that same plaque in honor of her service as well. I learned from her that Memorial Day isn’t about opening up the local community swimming pool or picnicking at a local park with friends and family. It’s about honoring those who have died so that we can have the chance to do so.
I’m fortunate to have had a mother and father who valued their role as first teachers. While they were both strong supporters of public education and valued every opportunity my brothers and I had to access learning in a very rural area of the Low Country, they never saw themselves as abdicating responsibility to teach us.
Memorial Day will ever remain an important remembrance for me; not because my parents expected my teachers to make that real for me, but rather because they believed it was their responsibility. My mother will wear a red poppy today and she will likely recite a few lines from In Flanders Field, written by a Canadian during WWI and the reason we wear those poppies today. I know she will think today about some she knew in WWII who never had the chance to raise families, go to college, experience a long and rich life as she has, and who will remain in a distant land for all time.