Editor column: Remembering the reason for Memorial Day
A show of hands if you spent this past holiday weekend relaxing, enjoying the outdoors, catching up on something important or any combination of the three?
All of those managed to get crammed into mine, with some work peppered in here and there. It is a wonderful and rejuvenating feeling to take a break.
Such was the feeling when I scrolled across a Facebook post reminding us of the reason for Memorial Day. It is not, as the person stated, a day to uniformly honor veterans and servicemen and women. Rather, it is a day to specifically remember those who sacrificed their lives while serving our country.
Originally called Decoration Day, the first large observance in the U.S. came in 1868, according the Department of Veterans Affairs. It took place in Arlington National Cemetery.
The post caused me to pause. I knew this, right? I’m not an idiot, I thought.
Obviously we have Veterans Day to honor our veterans and the name Memorial Day is so literal. Of course this is a day of remembrance.
Yet, so many headlines, social media posts and physical messages seemed to convey this broader message of honoring our veterans. Surely, I was not alone. (Why else would the person feel obligated to post such a clarifying message on Facebook?)
The Washington Post has even made a habit of re-publishing a blog post titled “Why Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day” online on both holidays.
It was not until later in the day that I read Roland McLean’s column on the Post Independent website. In sharing personal experiences along with some statistics on combat casualties, McLean, himself a Navy veteran, called on readers to reflect on the lives of our fallen servicemen and women. In the process, he also questioned how some Americans could show disdain for our military members in general.
Sitting there taking a break from packing boxes and cleaning my apartment, it seemed logical to question my own position on the patriotism spectrum.
As McLean noted, the Vietnam War was a turning point in this country that sparked a backlash unseen to the same degree before the war and in wars following.
At a certain point, I cannot remember exactly when, I recognized our wars in the Middle East where, at best, a mistake with deadly and serious geopolitical consequences.
The thought is hardly revelatory. Even my parents, both of whom voted for W … twice, recognized that fairly early on.
Condemnation of the wars, however, did not equate to hatred for our soldiers. They were mostly good people — there are bad ones in any group. If spit were to fly from our mouths it should be directed at our government, the ones elected to higher office, I thought at the time.
Yet, that parsing of responsibility was largely where things were left at the time.
I had some family members on my mom’s side who served in the military. None of them, to the best of my knowledge, died in combat. Most of them died after returning from war, before I was born. The ones who were still alive when I was old enough to voice my curiosity declined to talk about their experiences.
Later on in high school when I mentioned that I felt an urge to follow some friends into the Marines, a family member on my father’s side said through a veil of light laughter that “we left that to other people.”
It was as horrifyingly elitist and misguided then as it is now.
And that is where things were left.
As high school ended some friends joined the military, different branches and in different capacities. College introduced me to some veterans closer to my own age.
I began thanking men and women in uniform, or really any identifying mark of military experience, for their service — a habit I’ve retained since then.
So where does all of this leave me?
I have no real ties to military service. Death in combat has not touched me personally. But dwelling on the subject for a small amount of time sparks a genuine sense of gratitude to those who did what I frankly would not do.
The qualifying factor in that statement, of course, is it requires thought, which is the intent of the holiday in the first place.
But without the Facebook post or Mr. McLean’s column I likely would not have spent much time thinking about it; and focused instead on having some fun and catching up on some house work.
I don’t think failing to reflect on the lives of our fallen soldiers would have made me a bad person, but I’m glad I did.
The day is only a reminder, not a singular opportunity. Thank you to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Ryan Hoffman made an earnest effort to refrain from using the line “the rent is too damn high” in this column. You can reach him at 970-685-2103 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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