Remembering Those Who Said: "I'll go."
This particular holiday always gets me.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Memorial Day involved memories of nearly forgotten wars of prior generations. In 1866, those who envisioned the first “Decoration Day” in Waterloo, N.Y., (not far from my college campus) thought they would never experience war like the one they had just survived. But the War Between the States wasn’t even over before the wars of westward expansion flared on the prairies, soon followed by fights with Mexico, Spain, Germany and so forth. Today, our longest war (not counting the Cold one) is still not concluded in Afghanistan and the list of hot spots keeps growing.
In fact, last fall, President Obama and his generals admitted that we are simply “at war,” perhaps in perpetuity. “We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime,” retired Air Force general Charles F. Wald told the Washington Post soon after a similar public statement from the White House.
So how does this new reality, a continuous state of war against non-traditional stateless enemies, impact a holiday set aside to commemorate soldiers who died in service to their country? In truth, it makes Memorial Day more pertinent; it is a real-time concern. Yes, we remember with awe the bomber crews of my father’s squadron who died 70 years ago. We must also take stock, however, of those who were lost last week, and we are aware that others will fall victim to IEDs, rockets, embassy raids and equipment failure next week. Sadly, in 2015, Memorial Day does not require acute memory power.
So, please celebrate this weekend by watching the little leaguers march (meander aimlessly) in the annual parade, or by shopping for sales at the tire store. The people who are in harms’ way tell me they want us to enjoy every American pastime and picnic. But I hope we will also pause for just a second or two to “decorate” the memories of those who said: “I’ll go.”