Memorial Day - Remembering Those Lost in Service to Our Nation
Today is Memorial Day, a national holiday set aside for those lost in the service of our country. Most of us are focused on grilling burgers and hot dogs and the kind of freedom that is being experienced as the pandemic lifts. We complain about difficulty traveling and high gas prices. The reason for the Holiday is a bit of an afterthought. I never served. No one in my generation of my extended family lost their lives in service to our country, although several have served. One of the things that has occurred in our country when we moved to an all-volunteer service is these kinds of devastating losses are experienced by a small number of families. If you are a gold star mother or father, brother or sister, Today is about far more than what is on the grill or the price of gas. If you are reading this and you are from a gold star family, please know we have not forgotten. We honor your lost loved ones. That is what today is about.
What does that look like in numbers? In our life span, like this. Each one a person with hopes and dreams:
· WWII - total killed 670,846 and 72,491 missing in action.
· Korean War- total killed 36,516 and 7,564 missing in action.
· Golf War I – total killed 294 and 2 missing in action.
· War in Afghanistan - total killed 2,216 and 0 reported as missing in action.
· War in Iraq - 4,497 total killed and 3 missing in action.
There have been hundreds of additional losses from a myriad of military interventions around the world over that last 7 decades and even more who die in part because of their scars long after the battle is over. All these lost lives are worthy of reflection. They all stepped up to serve us and we are in their debt.
We should honor those we have lost in service no matter what are feeling may be about any particular military intervention. When one enlists (or were drafted) there is a pledge to serve the country as commanded by our elected leaders. As citizens, it is our duty to consider such serious matters at the ballot box and to then hold those we elect accountable for how our service members are deployed. I often wonder how a return to compulsory military service might change how we feel about military interventions. While we are not likely return to a draft process, maybe we should consider how we send other families loved ones off to combat and the price some pay as we if they were our own family members. That is an element of Memorial Day we must consider.
This week, in my travels and probably because of it being Memorial Day, I saw a lot of older men wearing Vietnam vet hats. I saw two at different grocery stores and one while volunteering at the vaccine clinic. I quietly thanked them for their service even as I thought about what it was like for them when they got back in country and landed in a nation in conflict about the war. We did not welcome them as we should have and as a result we added to their wounds.
Over the course of my life, I have caught glimpses of some of these costs. I have been to the
Normandy American Cemetery and have seen the rows of young lives with Crosses, Stars of David and Crescent and Stars on them, the vast majority of these were kids under age 25. They drew their last breaths taking that beachhead 77 years ago this coming weekend. What made them so great in part was that they were defending human freedom, not just for us but for the rest of the world. When at the Unite to Face Addiction Rally a number of years ago, I saw a bunch of octogenarian and nonagenarian American heroes get off the bus with tears in their eyes at the National WWII monument. I will never forget the looks on their faces as they remembered friends lost and sacrifices made so many decades ago.
The truth of the matter is that during WWII, every family sacrificed. We were a nation united against a common external foe. We were not perfect, there are blemishes also on this era of history, but by and large we came together as a country and helped save the world from totalitarian oppression. I often think about those times, two decades before my own birth as we are now in a rather turbulent time in American history. I could not conceive of the people of that era acting like we are. We are not showing our better sides as a people. We are more divided at this time in our history than any since the civil war, a full life span earlier. It has been said that there is no external threat to America that can rival our own internal challenges. We are made of better stuff. We should start acting like it.
This day of memorial and remembrance, I am grateful for those who lost their lives in service to our nation. We should so honor those who gave everything sacrifices of those gave everything by working to deliver this grand experiment of self-governance to the next generation. I am grateful for the lessons of history that make it quite clear that the challenges in front of us are surmountable and nothing compared to those experienced by prior generations. I am also grateful for all among us who work to try and bring us back together as a people. Thank you to all those who gave everything so our nation, formed on ideals we continue to strive to live up to carry the dream forward.