Why We Celebrate Memorial Day
Why you should be thankful you are off of work today and partying like crazy (those of you in Miami)…
Thank you for your service. We say those words more frequently now — when we see men and women in uniform at the airport, when we accept a paper poppy from a veteran at the supermarket, when we sit next to a member of the military at a ballgame. Thank you for your service. It’s a nice gesture, true, but small. We say it, but then most of us go back to the rest of our lives.
It’s a volunteer military these days, after all; we don’t have to serve, and we don’t have to remember. So we don’t have to think about the bitter cold of the Ardennes in the Battle of the Bulge. We don’t have to think about the steaming, confused jungles of the Vietnam War, a war whose 50th anniversary is now being commemorated. We don’t have to think about IEDs, and up-armored Humvees, and downed helicopters.
We don’t have to think about the sacrifices. But we must.
Since Memorial Day was first observed in 1868 as Decoration Day, initially a way to honor Civil War dead, more than 600,000 U.S. servicemen and women have died in war. Millions more have served. They all went marching into the unknown, and not all of them came back. We want our war stories to be clean, to be triumphant tales of good over evil, shorn of shades of gray. But war is messy. So is memory.
Karl Marlantes had trouble forgetting. To his family and friends, he was an honored ex-Marine, the business consultant with the medals. But Marlantes was haunted by his experiences in Vietnam. He had nightmares. He felt guilt. He could get angry. Finally, he sought help. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Counseling made a difference; so did faith. He’s written two books about his experiences, a novel and a memoir, books that are both inspirational and cautionary. Now he wants others to remember, too.
Memory is important. Rose Mary Sabo Brown spent just one month with her husband, Army Spec. Leslie Sabo Jr., before he left for Vietnam in 1969. Six months after that, he was dead. It took more than 42 years, but Leslie Sabo Jr. was finally awarded the Medal of Honor earlier this month for his bravery in battle. He’d been recommended for it by his unit, but somehow the recommendation was overlooked. President Obama presented the medal to Sabo Brown on May 16. “I’ve never stopped thinking about him,” she said of her late husband. “My heart is filled with pride that you can’t even imagine.”
Pride. Pain. It’s a terrible double-edged sword, memory is. At its best, it fills us with tenderness; at its worst, it racks us with grief. And when it comes to the fallen, it’s hard to face the blade. But some people, we should recall, don’t have a choice. “The thing about remembering,” wrote Tim O’Brien in “The Things They Carried,” “is that you don’t forget.”
Make sure you take the time out today to remember and to show gratitude to those who lost their lives in battle.