Memorial Day has become somewhat convoluted in our culture. Instead of maintaining its original purpose, it has become the unofficial kick-off to summer and, to a less extent, a day to honor all veterans. As much as I love a good cookout and do honor those who have served, respectfully, that’s not the purpose of the day. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have died in service of their country. Because it’s a day to honor the dead, we try to attend a Memorial Day service every year. Sadly, those services can be hard to find. While there are a number of Memorial Day celebrations, with fireworks, concerts, hot dogs, and even ceremonies to honor veterans, those events fail to honor the true meaning of the day. But we were able to find a local event sponsored by the VFW, and the kids and I headed out into the rain to pay our respects.
At the end of the service, the M.C. asked if those who had lost loved ones to war to share their names. Younger voices proclaimed names of those who fell in recent wars , and older voices shared the names of the fallen in Vietnam and Korea. But one voice was much older, and filled with tears. In a voice heavy with emotion, a man I couldn’t see through the crowd named his father who killed in 1944 in World War II. This man has to be at least 71 years old, and perhaps never even knew his father, but there can be no doubt he still felt the of the impact of his father’s death.
While I have no immediate experience with the sacrifices honored on Memorial Day, I, too, feel the ripples. In 1944, my great uncle, Gorman Hardin, was killed in the early days of the Battle of Luzon. His death profoundly effected his young brother, who at 14 years old enlisted in the Navy to seek vengeance for his brother’s death. My grandfather was big for his age, but still only 14, and perhaps not prepared for the challenges of war. His loss effected my grandfather, and his children, and me.
Most of us don’t realize the impact of those honored on Memorial Day. Because we don’t know the names on the headstones, we don’t understand what we’ve lost from their absence, and we don’t understand what we’ve gained from their sacrifice. But we have gained and retained much because faithful and courageous men and women laid down their lives. And it’s precisely because we have gained so much without paying the cost that we must pay attention to the meaning of this day. The summer party can wait. There will be another mattress sale. For this one day, let’s stop, remember, and be thankful.