The long weekend for those of us living safely throughout the nation is much more than that for all of us. Whether we recognize and feel the intensity of the Memorial Day holiday or not, whether we understand what sacrifice and battlefield death are all about, the one day of the year which is about reconciliation and coming together to honor those who gave their all is here.
It is here for the grieving parents, friends and relatives of all those who died on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past decade. It is here for the 50,000 battlefield dead who were killed in Vietnam and Cambodia and for the war dead in the Korean conflict and World War II, The First World War, the Spanish American War, the Civil War and on and on.
It is a relatively modern holiday, conceived shortly after the Civil War, when Northerners and Southerners alike wanted to give shape and form to reconciliation and to honor the generation of young men killed in that savage civil war.
The North embraced the notion of Memorial Day. The South resisted until the time of the First World War and there remains eight southern states who celebrate the holiday at different times of the year.
For those of us who live comfortably in our lives going about our daily tasks without a hint of worry about whether or not we will make it home at the end of the day comes the added reality that for many, many thousands of brave American men and women, no such soft scenario existed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where thousands were killed on the battlefield.
By and large, for the most part, we honor those war dead – and all the war dead from all the wars and conflicts on Memorial Day 2012.
We do so in the growing knowledge that without sacrifice, without the willingness of one to give their all for their nation, we would fail in our effort to give democracy to the world.
Freedom is expensive, said the great American patriot Patrick Henry. And he was right.
The blood of young Americans poured into the swirling sands of largely tribal nations in the Middle East seems to be about waste and necessity. The same can be said of those who died in the jungles in Vietnam and for those who nearly froze to death fighting the North Koreans and the Chinese during the Korean conflict. World War II seemed right – especially in retrospect – but the carnage, death and suffering of those who fought and died has no justification except that the world was freed of Nazism and Japanese Imperialism in the greatest fight for freedom in the history of mankind.
Our brave men and women do not die in vain. They are remembered here and with grace and dignity and in the widespread belief and knowledge that they who died so bravely died for us – for you and me, for our children and for our children’s children.
Memorial Day is a three day holiday – a long weekend.
For the brave who died in battle in the name of their nation there is no holiday. There are only honors given to the dead and remembrance.
It is said best about this holiday in the somber words of Moina Michael’s “Flanders Fields”:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.