Nothing irks me more than our cultural illiteracy — and of all of our massive misunderstandings of American culture, nothing has come to be more misunderstood in recent years as Memorial Day. It's almost understandable since most people get their education from the media, most of whom could not be more unqualified. Every year, for the last several years, this weekend no exception, it's the same mantra. I can't tell you how many times this weekend already I've heard or read on the radio, television or in print: "Thank the troops this weekend, thank a vet."
Yes, we should always thank our soldiers, seamen, Marines and airmen; and members of the Coast Guard, National Guard and reserve units; and veterans of all the service branches. Our police and firemen as well. But that's not the meaning of Memorial Day.
From the American Heritage College Dictionary:
me•mo•ri•al — n. Something, as a holiday, intended to celebrate or honor the memory of a person or event.
Me•mo•ri•al Day — n. May 30, observed in the United States to commemorate members of the armed forces killed in war, officially observed on the last Monday in May.
The point being: We should always thank our vets and active duty military; they are with us now and are constant reminders of the sacrifice and diligence needed to protect our country and preserve our freedom. Plus, they have their own days: Veterans Day (November 11) and Armed Forces Day (May 17). But Memorial Day, as those very same vets will tell you, is to honor those no longer with us, who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of America. Those who birthed our freedom and left us with it intact, and a society in which we can be so carefree as to picnic, sunbathe and vacation on what is such a solemn day. From the Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan.
We can't thank them in person. The least we can do, one day a year, is to honor them and pray for them, as well as for the families of service men and women recently departed. We should do it more often than once a year. But at least one day. Today. Memorial Day.
We walked among the crosses Where our fallen soldiers lay. And listened to the bugle As TAPS began to play. The Chaplain led a prayer We stood with heads bowed low. And I thought of fallen comrades I had known so long ago. They came from every city Across this fertile land. That we might live in freedom. They lie here 'neath the sand. I felt a little guilty My sacrifice was small. I only lost a little time But these men lost their all. Now the services are over For this Memorial Day. To the names upon these crosses I just want to say, Thanks for what you've given No one could ask for more. May you rest with God in Heaven From now through evermore.