Despite it being a three day weekend with picnics, boating, hiking, outdoor activities and family fun that comes because it is Memorial Day, the question is still often asked what does Memorial Day really mean to us as individuals?
Many Americans know that Memorial Day is a combining of the original Decoration Day, once designated to honor the dead soldiers of World War I, with the added sacrifices endured in our later conflicts. Poppies worn on lapels are the symbol of that earlier conflict.
The heavy losses of World War II, for me, the really Great War, necessitated the combining of our nations reflections on loss and sorrow with the memories of sacrifice and honor. Since WWII, we’ve had Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan plus many lesser conflicts like Somalia, Panama, Grenada, Libya and now Syria.
American Soldiers have sacrificed themselves in all of these conflicts, not for flag or country but for their buddies, their mission and their duty. It remains for us civilians to think of flag and country as the symbols of just what an exceptional country America really is.
It is the folded flag, the empty boots, the bayonet impaled rifle surmounted by a damaged helmet and the soulful sounds of “Taps” after prayer, that are the symbols of the soldier’s sacrifice.
I was three months old when WWII started. I was six when it ended. I saw my dad off on a Southern Pacific Train to answer his call to the draft. Letters from my uncle, my dads brother, a US Marine in the South Pacific, were read to me by my mother and Movietone newsreels told us the scrubbed, edited versions of the awful battles in Europe and the bloody beaches of South Pacific islands and, we were confident nobody could beat America.
In my life time, I have been fortunate enough to have actually stood on the hallowed ground of many of those battlefields now fading from public memory. I ask young people if they have ever heard of Bataan, Corregidor, Subic Bay, Cabanatuan, Pearl Harbor, Midway Island, Cebu, Normandy, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Iwo Jima, Guam, Wake Island or Okinawa. Except for Iwo Jima, I’ve been to them all and then some. Many know of Normandy and Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima, but that’s because popular culture has enshrined them forever in movies.
For many years, Veterans Day and Memorial Day celebrations languished unobserved and nearly forgotten as changing political attitudes attempted to attach the meme of ‘Guilt’ to Americas role in keeping world peace. But, one battle after another pushed those attempts into the background until today, despite our current presidents vain attempt to keep up the farce of American guilt, our national pride is reasserting its self in whole communities observances, everywhere.
So, I’ll answer my question. What does Memorial Day mean to me? As I was personally affected by the great events of our century, I view Memorial Day as an attitude, one that reflects the “can do” will and spirit of America’s young men and women. It is the reflection of winners; not a time of sorrow or reproach but a time for the celebration of victory at all costs, achievement by all means, and it gives us a moment to pause and reflect on exactly what constitutes the price of maintaining freedom. It is solely and only an American attitude. It is who we are!
I entertain no guilt over what America has accomplished through the violence of war.
For such events as Hiroshima, I say “Remember Pearl Harbor!” I refuse to accept any lesser definition of Americas true, predominant place in history. I will observe Memorial day with my flags and bunting, music and speeches, food and fun, parades and flag bedecked motorcycles. That’s what it was all for.
Remember, freedom is the goal, the Constitution is the way. Now, go get ‘em!