Published: Jupiter Courier - Memorial Day 2015
President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day a federal holiday in 1971. Observed on the last Monday in May, it is a time for the living to pay homage to those who gave their lives so that we and the oppressed people of the world can remain free from tyranny.
Honoring our deceased veterans has been a tradition since 1868 when Union General John A. Logan declared “Decoration Day” an occasion to place flowers on the graves of Civil War soldiers. It is estimated that 625,000 Americans died over differing views on slavery, trade tariffs, and states’ rights. The Civil War holds the ignominious record of the highest number of casualties in one confrontation and is the most costly engagement America has ever fought. As staggering as those statistics are, the total number of men and women who have given their lives in all wars - foreign and domestic - is well over one million. Surely, one day a year is not enough to give tribute to our fallen soldiers. We must do more.
When my son was in high school in the 1990s, I was a very involved parent, often supervising events on campus and serving as a chaperone for local and out-of-state trips. I vividly remember traveling to Boston for a debate tournament at Harvard University. The trip included some sightseeing, including a walk along the Freedom Trail. The students were all excited to visit historic landmarks highlighting Boston’s role in the American Revolution. They seemed to appreciate the sacrifices made so that they could enjoy the lifestyles they usually took for granted. We were proud parents… all except one father who appeared troubled. Upon questioning, he revealed that, while watching the mini-series The Blue and the Grey, his daughter, a senior, had asked him what the movie was about. His answer, “The Civil War” had elicited the response, “What war is that?”
Since the Vietnam era, war has become commonplace in our lives. Our men and women in uniform have been fighting on foreign soil for so long that we no longer stop to think about the danger they face every day. Where once we protested in the streets to bring our soldiers home, now few Americans blink an eye as statistics rolls across the bottom of their television screens announcing the names of those who have perished in battle. Unlike the father who was ashamed of his daughter’s question, my fear is that in years to come, children will no longer ask, “What war is that?”
With each passing birthday, I have become more aware of my own mortality. I’ve often wondered who will remember me when I’m gone. My husband and I were blessed with a new grandson two years ago and we try to spend as much time with him as possible. When the inevitable happens, I want him to remember us… to know that we loved him and wanted only the best for him. Every Memorial Day, I think about the friends I lost in the Vietnam War… those young men who never had a chance to start a family. There are no children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to wave a flag in their honor… or are there? It is up to us to keep their memory alive. We may not know their names. We may not know their faces, but we do know what they sacrificed for us. If that isn’t the true meaning of family, I don’t know what is.
Let each and every one of us give true meaning to poet Thomas Campbell’s words by remembering our deceased veterans this Memorial Day. Let us pay tribute to those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the blessings and bounty of life in a country where freedom’s bell rings loud and clear. If we remember, perhaps the day will come when no new names will be engraved on headstones and monuments.