Now, you might be shaking your head. “That’s not right, Lewis. Not right at all.” Maybe not. Maybe today isn’t about all that stuff. But give it a few years, and it will be. I mean, how many of you even know what Memorial Day is all about? If your answer is, “To honor the men and women who serve our country as a member of the Armed Forces.” Well…you’d be wrong. Today is about celebrating the lives of those treasured few who gave their lives in the defense of this nation. It’s about honoring their sacrifice.
It began after the Civil War, in 1868. 215,000 Americans slain. Back then it was called “Decoration Day” and was only something that the military and its veterans took part in. It happened in May because by then flowers were fully in bloom, and that was what they used to decorate the graves. In fact, it wasn’t until many years later, 1967 to be exact, that “Memorial Day” became the federally recognized holiday that we all enjoy. “Okay Lewis, enough with the history lesson.”
Right. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog post then you’re the type who already tries to remember those who died in war-time. You might fly a flag, attend a parade, or change your profile picture on Facebook. Some of you will put on a movie like “Heartbreak Ridge” or “Saving Private Ryan” or “Flags of our Fathers” so that you can get a feeling for what it was like to fight (and die) in battle against America’s enemies. For some of us, we need only to look back in our memories. Iraq. Afghanistan. Why, just this month we’ve lost 25 members of our Armed Forces. 25 families whose fathers/sons/brothers/uncles/cousins won’t get to crack open a beer and enjoy the summer, today, or any other day.
I digress. It’s easy to get carried away, I guess. Because every day I see people living their lives – strangers, friends, family members – in complete ignorance of just how fortunate they really are. I watch my own children complain about the food on their plate and can’t help but think of the children all over the world who are too weak to move because they haven’t eaten in days, who will likely die before the week is through. Meanwhile, I feed the “good” scraps to my dogs and throw the rest in the trash. There I go again, off-tangent. See what I mean?
For many of us, and 99% of Americans, war is ancient history. Something that we’re just emotionally incapable of understanding. Especially for an entire generation (the Gen-Xers) who grew up without ever seeing a “real war” outside of a history book or movie. Then there are those, like myself, who have lived most or all of our lives under the shadow of 9/11. We knew that our military was over there in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting the “terrorists,” but for the most part were too busy living our lives to care.
There’s so many distractions, especially now-a-days. Who wants to think about those who have died, when we can obsess over why this person didn’t like our post or how come she’s taking so long to text me back? We don’t want to know the names of men and women who died before they got to enjoy many of the same things we ourselves have enjoyed. We don’t want to see the rows upon rows of white grave markers. We don’t want to hear their stories, or the heartbreak it caused the families to which they never returned. It’s too ugly, and sad. And ain’t nobody got time for that!
That’s what today’s about. Memorial Day. We have to remember. We have to see the ugliness, because without it you’ll never appreciate the beauty. We owe it to those 4,400 patriots who died during the American Revolution. To the 215,000 Americans who died in the Civil War. To the 53,000 who died in the First Great War AKA World War I. To the 292,000 members of the “greatest generation” who died in World War II. 33,667 in Korea. 47,393 in Vietnam. 148 in the Gulf War. 4,487 in Iraq. And finally, the 1,870 killed in Afghanistan.
It doesn’t matter if you agree with the leaders who sent us there. It is your duty to cherish their sacrifice, and to teach the youth of our nation to do the same. Not to glorify war, no, far from it. Make them understand. Make them remember. Let them see the horror — the lives lost. So that when the time comes, they choose the oft-less traveled path.
They are, after all, the future of our nation.