Memorial Day: 2012

In Editorial on May 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Do we find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground;
Mother Earth will swallow you;
Lay your body down.
Steven Stills

It’s the American Memorial Day weekend.

There will be parades, speeches, prayer vigils, tire sales, and barbeques. Much of the holiday will be spent giving honor to those who served in America’s armed forces.

That’s just wrong.

Memorial Day is not set aside to honor living veterans or men and women currently serving in the empire’s legions. The holiday has morphed into an orgy of patriotism celebrating firemen, police officers, prison guards, and other non-soldier types.

I suffered the last tolerable straw last year when, on Memorial Day, a news story commemorated a veteran who had survived her time in the military, but died as a civilian “dedicated to providing books to schools in the inner city”.

And, although my father (z”l) and my father-in-law (z”l) were both combat veterans of the war in the Pacific nearly seventy years ago, I do not spend the day honoring them.

They came home. They raised families. They ate barbeque on Memorial Day, but always spent a few quiet moments remembering shipmates who, having eaten their final barbeque, left for war and eternity.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said in the introduction of his book Night:

“There are those who tell me that I survived in order to write this text. I am not convinced. I don’t know how I survived: I was weak, rather shy; I did nothing to save myself. A miracle? Certainly not. If Heaven could or would perform a miracle for me, why not for others more deserving than myself? It was nothing more than chance.”

 I’ve heard, at least, a variation of those words from countless war veterans.

It has to be chance when someone survives the chaos of war.

In the mid-1980s, PBS ran a program where actors read letters home from military personnel who did not survive America’s wars, from the Revolutionary War to (then) Vietnam. It was a must see.

I made it through less than forty minutes of the program and could not take any more. It was emotionally devastating.

I realized that those who die in wars are not “extras”. They are not like the crewmembers offered up in the first half of a Star Trek episode, whose red uniform tunics give their fates away.

It is not only the “good”, the “worthy”, or those with “futures” who survive a war. Those whose lives were cut short by the mischance of war had so much to offer and there was so much of life they should have savored.

Memorial Day is for them.

We’re enjoying their barbeque, cheering the parade they never got to see, and smiling at children they never parented.

Whether or not the war in which they perished was justified should not be our concern on Memorial Day. Whether they volunteered or were conscripted to service is not important.

It is enough that they died.

And for that, we owe them a day of memorial.


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