Well, what about Memorial Day? It is a legal holiday, observed annually on the last Monday in May in honor of the nation’s armed services personnel killed in wartime. Some claim that Memorial Day was first observed on May 30, 1868 on the order of Gen. John Alexander Logan for the purpose of decorating the graves of the American Civil War dead. Others claim that Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp; they reportedly dug up the bodies and worked for two weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom.
Every Memorial Day, I am reminded of a passage in a book (having read it five times) written by my favorite author. The book: Tales of the South Pacific. The author: James Michener. Published: 1957. Comment: A book every American should read. In part of a passage, a young World War II soldier stationed in the South Pacific expresses his feelings on visiting a cemetery at Hoga Point.
“Before me lay the dead, the heroic dead who took the island. Upon a strange plateau, on a strange island, in a strange sea, far from their farms and villages, they slept forever beside the lagoon which bore them to their day of battle…
If you sit at home and read that two hundred and eighty-one men died in taking an island, the number is only a symbol for the mind to classify. But when you stand at the white crosses, the two hundred and eighty-one dead become men: the sons, the husbands, and the lovers…
Each man who lay there bore with him to his grave some promise for a free America. Now they were gone. Who would take their places? Women? Old men? Or were those who lived committed to a double burden? Theirs and the dead men.”
These words are inscribed on an Iwo Jima cemetery: “When you go home tell them and say – for your tomorrow we gave our today.” On this Memorial Day, let us remember these words and remember the sacrifice made by the men and women who served our country in the past and those who are serving today. The relentless passage of time makes it all too easy for some to allow the importance of Memorial Day to pass without a second thought. For some, forgotten are the sacrifices of those who risked and lost their lives for our future and a better world. Forgotten also are those who were asked to recover a few square yards of land. Forgotten are those who never had a chance to love. Forgotten also are those who didn’t give their lives for their country but had their lives taken away from them.
The history of war has been unkind to our country during my lifetime. Nearly 300,000 Americans lost their lives during World War II (16 million served) with 5,000 sailors and 20,000 other servicemen paying the supreme sacrifice during the battle of the tiny island of Okinawa. The Korean and Vietnam wars produced 34,000 and 47,000 American deaths, respectively. Staggering numbers. It has been reported that fewer are dying with the recent armed conflicts. Statistically, the number appears to be going down but the trend will not register with those who lost a loved one. How often do those in the reading audience give thanks for being an American? How often do we give thanks for our lifestyle – cars, TVs, restaurants, vacations, home(s), etc.? And how often do people around the world give thanks for their present-day life-style?
But, who should we and those around the world give thanks to? For some, the answer might be the bureaucrats, politicians, lawyers, etc. For others, it might be doctors or engineers or scientists. For me, thanks would be directed to those who have served or are presently serving in the defense of our great nation. Today, approximately 1.5% of the 300,000,000+ U.S. citizens serve in the military. One can only wonder how much thought is given to those who have not served. Do they really understand the sacrifice by our men and women in the military? I feel a pang of guilt every year when Memorial Day rolls around. I am 81 years old and never served America. The 81 years spanned four wars, including the present war on terrorism and yet, I did not serve. Many others were not as fortunate.
The quality of our lives can be directly attributed to those special men and women who served bravely during those horrible periods discussed above. Hopefully, each and every one of us can reflect on those sacrifices and become better human beings. May kindness and understanding, rather than combat and hate, fill our lives in the days that follow so that we may truly celebrate life.
Happy Memorial Day to all.
NEXT POSTINGS: (tentative)
JULY 1: On My Book
AUGUST 1: On Environmental Matters
SEPTEMBER 1: On Purely Chaste, Pristine and Random Thoughts XXII
OCTOBER 1: On Barack Hussein Obama Update V
NOVEMBER 1: On Paying Student-Athletes III
DECEMBER 1: On Hofstra Men’s Basketball: 2015-16 Season
Very thoughtful article.