Hey, Soldier. Or Sailor, Airman, Marine. Late servicemen, fallen or passed on. It’s Memorial Day. Your day. Back when all the holidays meant something — and meant something different — this began as “Decoration Day.” When people decorated military graves, or commemorative statues, or monuments and plaques.
That’s why I’m addressing you as one group, as an anonymous group, because Decoration Day was designed to memorialize, to remember and honor, dead servicemen and women. All of you. You know, on the Fourth of July we celebrate our independence; on Veterans’ Day we honor the retired military among us.
That’s the way it was supposed to be. Decoration Day was changed to Memorial Day, maybe because the act of placing decorative flowers and flags was becoming an empty gesture. Or simply wasn’t being done that much anymore. Whatever: most Americans think of it now as “the beginning of summer,” the vacation season. So, backyard barbecues have replaced parades and cemetery services.
Maybe THAT is what you fought for, and many of you died for. “The American Way of Life.” My dad didn’t fight in World War II because he hated the Nazis or Japs like the government told him to hate; he surely did not believe that Main Streets in the American heartland were about to be invaded. He volunteered and served because it was his duty. That’s another old-fashioned concept.
The dirty little secret about history is that the best fighting forces have met success not because they hated, but because they loved. You American Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, in your graves through the land — throughout the world, sometimes buried where you fell — loved the flag, loved your people, your homes, your Main Streets; and you loved the concepts of duty and honor.
Most of you guys are probably like my father, and would tell me that you just “did what you had to do,” and most of your kids are probably like me, in awe of dedication and sacrifice. You would tell us to honor the people in uniform right now, and we do.
I am aching to ask you questions, if I could: is it different now? Today we fight enemies so far from our shores, toward a victory that has not been defined. So often fulfilling missions to build roads and schools and deliver classroom computers, when back home here, where many military spouses are on food stamps, there are American communities in need of roads and schools and classroom computers.
I know one thing that’s NOT different, because I have met some of the returning service people today, and have seen them on TV too. The uniforms still grace good people; people who have a sense of honor and duty; brave people who serve because service is honorable.
So maybe if anything is different now, it’s not the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines; and maybe, when all is said and done, it’s not so much the service they are asked to perform. Maybe the biggest difference is what kind of America they have been fighting for, what Main Streets they return to. I pray they are not much different than those of your day.
… but it was you men and women, now in your graves and represented in those memorials, who brought us to the point where we can even discuss these questions. You didn’t give us Freedom — God did that — but you all defended it. You knew the difference, and you did it well. Often it was brutally difficult, and usually it was far, far away from your homes.
So I’m going to tell you about trips we will take, many of us, this Memorial Day. Not as far away as your places of service and sacrifice. Some of us are not close to our relatives’ military graves, but all of us are close to some military grave or memorial. I am going to suggest that we, the living, pick some flowers or buy some flowers, or get a little flag, and visit a military cemetery. Or any cemetery, and then look for a military emblem on the stone. Or a town’s war memorial. We are going to place a “decoration,” maybe a thank-you letter or a prayer, to brighten your memory and honor you… whoever you are. We are going to pray thanksgiving for your service. For those of us who cannot get out, we are going to make that trip in our minds. And our hearts.
My friend Ron Ferdinand drew an absolutely brilliant Sunday page for this year’s Memorial Day. “Dennis the Menace,” of all places! Check it out, if you can. Dennis and Good Ol’ Mister Wilson, and Mrs Wilson, are discussing the meaning, and the changing names, of Memorial Day. Dennis observes: “Maybe it’s called Memorial Day because ‘Thanksgiving Day’ was already taken.”
I look forward to visiting the grave of a stranger. I will symbolically shake your hand, and salute you. You represent much that was great about America. You represented US. God bless you.
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Many songs — patriotic, traditional, military — could follow this message. I have chosen this old Johnny Cash recitation that decorates the memories of our late military members with the colors red, white, and blue.
Click: That Ragged Old Flag … http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=a6vwXbQZvJo&feature=related#MondayMinistry_5-27-13