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column: That Memorial Day Thing

Happy birthday today to willow_25, and on Friday to xlaurabirdx -- who I'm told is getting married. I hope you both have a great day, and many happy tomorrows!



So, Memorial Day’s coming, giving us a kind of unofficial opening of summer. It means a three day weekend, and isn’t that great? We can grill, watch sports, drink beer – lots and lots of beer. We’re commemorating … you know … holidays?

And there’s some kind of soldier thingy in there somewhere, too.

It started May 30, 1868, as Decoration Day for the graves of our war veterans: flowers, ribbons, flags – memorial stuff. We’d survived the most destructive war in US history, a war pitting families and states against each other. It’s hard to conceive today how many Americans died in that single conflict.

Ah, but that was a long time ago. Now we’ve got the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend. There’s noise and destruction for you.

Originally on May 30, people would visit cemeteries and go to the graves of fallen military people, whether ancestors or a line of anonymous stones with the little flags, flapping in the spring breeze. When it became a three day holiday, the parades were easier to organize. Remember the parades? I mean the big ones, where military honor guards were accompanied by fire trucks, police cars, Boy and Girl Scouts, marching bands, a float or two. You could bet the American Legion would be there, and the D.A.R., and the V.F.W.

Seems like today a lot of people don’t even know what those initials stand for.

Many southern states refused to commemorate Decoration Day at first, because it was in remembrance of the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union, rather than those who fought for its division. There weren’t a lot of northern soldiers buried down there. Still, Columbus, Mississippi – not known as a bastion of progress – commemorated casualties of both sides, as early as 1866.

Memorial Day became the official name in 1967, and then Congress moved it and two other holidays to Mondays, apparently because our legislators didn’t feel they got enough time off. It’s great to have a three day weekend.

Hey, I like a good grilled burger, and a can of cold Mountain Dew. I watch the big race, sit with family and gossip, catch up on the news. We gripe about the economy, and the government, and various celebrities.

And sometimes I think about how great it is that we can do that.

Strange, isn’t it, that we build a three day vacation on the graves of our veterans?

And isn’t it more ironic still that all the things we do on that long weekend, we can do because of those people who died?

Imagine if, during Word War 2, we hadn’t been able to find enough people to fight. Would the proxy government installed by the Axis powers in Washington have allowed us to sit around on an off Monday and criticize? Based on events in Occupied France, I’m guessing not.

How much would that hamburger have cost if there had been no armed
forces to hold the line between the free world and Communism? Do you suppose our economy would have thrived under the Soviet model of government? Would there have been anything to grill, or even the grill itself, in a system where people stood in line for hours to get toilet paper?

We wouldn’t have had a country at all if regular citizens hadn’t been willing to take up arms. Some of the members of the Continental Congress wanted to join the army during the Revolution; a few actually did. They knew that a soldier is more important than a politician. A government of the people is worthless without someone willing to take up arms in the people’s defense.

The men and women in our armed forces take a lot of abuse, and often don’t get much respect at all. Sometimes they get spit on – literally – by the very people they protect. Imagine going to one of the dictatorships we’ve defended the world against, and spitting on a soldier? Short trial, shorter sentence.

Our military personnel get disrespected by people who can only disrespect them because they fight for the rights of those who disrespect them! It’s like a Marx Brothers comedy. What writer, actor, singer, politician, or protester of any stripe could criticize America, without someone in uniform there to preserve their right to gripe? How sad it is that we sit here in this great country but don’t understand the sacrifice that made us so fat and lazy, so full of words that would land us in a dark cell in most other countries.

Despite all our uniformed men and women have done for us, our media – which is defended by the military – crows over those few bad apples that also appear everywhere else in society. The military is all a bunch of killers, isn’t it? Druggies, rapists, jackbooted thugs. How is it, then, that the suicide rate among military members is below that of civilians? How is it that the homicide rate among our veterans is five times less than the national average?

Even when their commanders misstep and get mired in bureaucracy and mistakes, the armed forces are full of our best and brightest: dedicated young men and women who learn purpose, and honor, and who come out strong in mind and body. No one wants to talk about them. It’s not fun to discuss the success stories; only the failures.

Sometimes those young people serve their enlistments with honor, hang up their uniforms, and become civilians again. Maybe you can only tell because their backs are a little straighter, their eyes a bit clearer. Look for the ones who stand up most quickly when the flag comes by.

But sometimes they don’t come home.

They fell in places called Valley Forge, Bull Run, Chosin, Khe Sanh, Fallujah. They’re buried in Gettysburg, Normandy, Ardennes, Flanders, or Arlington.

They put on a uniform, went into harms way, and died tragically, as heroes. All so we can fire up the grill, crack open a beer, flip on the TV, and maybe … if we get around to it … give a little thanks for their sacrifice.

Do you suppose we could take a little time to put some flowers on their graves? And while we’re at it, this might be a good time to shake the hands of those people who preserve our freedom for us – because you never know when they’ll be sent into harm’s way again.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 20th, 2009 08:45 am (UTC)
Just as an interested outsider, do those comments make you a Republican, or does it go beyond that?
May. 20th, 2009 10:29 am (UTC)
Well, I certainly think it goes beyond that! I didn't see anything in my column that would indicate Republican or Democrat; just American. For that matter, it's a sentiment that should apply to any soldier who's ever fought for freedom anywhere in the world.

However, just for the record, I'm registered Republican. In Indiana, a voter has to register with a party in order to vote in a primary election; I flipped a coin and got Republican, even though in reality I was quite the left leaning liberal rabble rouser at the time. (Say that three times fast!) I voted for an independent candidate in two of my first three elections. As I've gotten older and gained life experience I've become an Indiana moderate, which, I've discovered, means conservative in most of the rest of the world.
May. 20th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks for that. We're waiting to find out now when my brother is being sent overseas again; it's nice to know that there are people who truly appreciate the sacrifice he's making.

Also, thanks for the birthday wishes.
May. 21st, 2009 04:14 am (UTC)
Tell your brother I said thank you -- and I hope you had a great birthday!
May. 20th, 2009 02:36 pm (UTC)
This is so true. My family isn't innocent of it, but it does appear that Americans have forgotten the meaning of Memorial Day. Kind of like Christmas and Easter (I don't know where the Easter Bunny came from. Santa can stay though; he's cool), though there's far less ads for Memorial Day in comparison.


And PS: I just recently found out what V.F.W meant. I suck.
May. 21st, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
I suppose most of us take the reason for holidays for granted -- probably all of us, at least sometimes. But we've got to have some R&R -- we can't dwell on the serious stuff all the time -- so I think it's okay, as long as we take a little time for the remembrance part.

Don't feel bad about V.F.W. -- I was well into my twenties before I found out. Young people just don't tend to think about stuff like that, unless they themselves are in the military!
May. 21st, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
I know what DAR and VFW stand for! In fact, every year for Lent we go to the fish fries at the VFW hall.
May. 22nd, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
Great fish there, too! Our Legion does a great job with pancake and sausage breakfasts.
May. 26th, 2009 05:34 am (UTC)
I'm sure you already know (depends on if I've mentioned it; depends on whether you know that aadler is my dad), but my dad is getting ready to go back overseas. I have friends in the military, who are overseas; heck, I've dated a military guy.

I have the utmost respect for our military.

I once trailed a group of soldiers in Grand Central Station, just to thank them for their service.

And I still find myself guilty of not thinking of the real reasons behind Memorial Day sometimes.
May. 26th, 2009 07:19 am (UTC)
I *did* know that Aadler is your dad -- I believe that's why we got friended in the first place -- but I'd forgotten! That certainly helps explain your respect for the military. :-)

But don't feel too bad -- I also still find myself guilty of having too much fun on, say, Memorial Day or Veterans' Day, and not spending enough time on the reasons for those holidays.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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