As you take advantage of this three-day weekend in honor of Memorial Day, to work in your flower beds, go hiking, boating, or a trip to the movies, please also take a moment to reflect on all those people who have died while serving in the armed forces. If you know one or two, please bring them to mind this day. If you have access to their place of interment, please consider decorating it with flowers. If you don't know anyone, please consider making a part of your planned activities this weekend, a visit to a war memorial, or a graveyard, thinking of the families who lost a young member who never returned home from serving their country.
The history of Memorial Day itself goes back to a time of grieving after the Civil War. According to Wikipedia,
"Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces. The holiday, which is observed every year on the last Monday of May, originated as Decoration Day after the American Civil War in 1868, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end."
Over the course of millenia, people have laid down their lives in wars started by demagogues; some who were convinced it was the right course of action, and others who were not. Tony Robbins in Awaken the Giant Within (1991), using Hitler as an example, puts it succinctly,
"Words have been used by demagogues throughout the ages to murder and subjugate, as when Hitler perverted a nation's frustrations into hatred for a small group of people, and in his lust for territory persuaded the German populace to gird for war."
Service members also die in peacetime. When I was serving on active duty shortly after Operation Desert Storm, a sailor that was on restriction died in Puerto Vallarta while trying to swim back to our destroyer that was anchored out in the bay. I took charge of a motor launch, and using what little Spanish I knew, directed the operator to conduct a search for the body. On another occasion, when an earthquake hit southern Californa, the first-class yeoman on board a frigate I was assigned to hit his head when the ship took a swell, was medivacked out by helicopter, and died at Balboa Hospital. I was assigned to shore patrol at the time, and had to watch as the story unfolded on the television in my barracks.
I come from a family of veterans, and surprisingly, we don't have tales of our family members who didn't survive their time in service; but many families do: the families who were confronted by the officer who was their field lieutenant bearing their own tears and a folded flag in honor of the sacrifice that was made by someone they considered comrade and friend. Many of our veterans bear the emotional wounds of knowing someone that died in service.
If I were Mayor of Midvale, I would honor Memorial Day with a graveside salute to those we have lost in service, instead of waiting until Veteran's Day to make the same gesture. Veteran's Day is set aside to honor the living veterans.
Today, this weekend, let's honor those who lost their lives while serving, including those who did so as ambassadors, or on humanitarian missions. We grieve their loss, and hope to someday never have to send more people to war again.
In love and service to our communities,