It was interesting. In church yesterday they wanted to reflect on the true purpose/meaning of Memorial Day. So they had everyone who has served in the military or who knows someone who has or is serving in the military stand up. I hate to be a picker of knits but that’s Veteran’s Day which comes in November. Memorial Day is a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. The Boy Scouts have it right, folks. Memorial Day is about the men and women who have died in the defense of our nation.
Memorial Day is, in the minds of most Americans, the first weekend of summer. The beginning of party time. Until September 11 2001, society had managed to push the military far below the surface. So much so that very few Americans, when they thought about the military thought about the individuals and the sacrifice they and their families make to defend the rights and privileges that Americans take for granted. Even today in a post Septmeber 11 world, many Americans think of the military as a faceless, nameless evil force bent only on destruction without cause or reason.
I believe that American society needs to be reminded at regular intervals who it is that makes up the military and what their real purpose is. Today’s American military force is made up not only of full time military members but also of reservists. Today those who have raised their right hand and sworn to defend the Constitution include people who are a regular part of civilian society. It came as a great surprise to many people at Apple when I announced that I would be going on military leave to serve in the Gulf War. They had no idea that I was in the military. Many of those I served with had the same experience. Co-workers and neighbors were very surprised to hear that folks they knew personally were going to war.
Yet our nation has been built and maintained on the tradition of the citizen-soldier. The soldiers, sailors and marines who fought in the American Revolution were citizen soldiers. Men who put aside their occupations to serve in a military force that ultimately liberated America from British rule. 90 years later it was citizen-soldiers who fought to determine the form of government this nation would have. 60 years later it was citizen-soldiers who went to the aid of Europe, in part to help Europe but also to ensure America’s continued freedom. Thirty years later it was citizen-soldiers who swarmed to the call to stop Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan and now Iraq. Citizen-soldiers were there for each of those conflicts. And each of those conflicts was about the maintenance of freedom and liberty. Some were misguided and probably should not have been pursued but that is not the decision of the military members who serve. That is the responsibility of those who serve in government and the citizens they serve.
Memorial Day is a day to remember those who have fallen in battle. Many, maybe most, of them are citizen-soldiers who heeded their nation’s call and went to serve. Memorial Day, thankfully, is not about me and the great people I served with. Our day comes in November. Memorial Day is about those who will never come home. Memorial Day is about those who will forever guard the battlefields they fought on. If you don’t have time to go to a cemetery and find the grave of a service member who died in conflict, decorate the grave of any service member. If even that is not possible, spend some time looking up the name and the story of someone who died in defense of this great nation.
I remember Lance Corporal Joseph B. Spence. Killed January 26, 2005. Go with God Marine, you stand relieved.