May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Is for Remembering

I've been thinking about Memorial Day and what it means. Something entirely different than what was intended.

With his Gen. Order 11, Gen. John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in 1868 unofficially established Decoration Day. Although a Southerner, he fought for the Union and intended the directive to honor those "soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion" that was the War Between the States. Apparently, fallen Union soldiers.

Quickly, though, states on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line used it to honor all their fallen soldiers. Especially after WWI, the observance came to be seen as a way to memorialize all the nation's war dead and in 1971, then-President Lyndon Johnson replaced "Decoration" with "Memorial" and established the day as a national observance.

After that, however, the basket started filling up and heading south. That is, the meaning of the holiday has gone to Hell in a handbasket. Today, too many Americans see Memorial Day as a chance to stampede department stores and car lots for those "great deals" the holiday ads tout. The day's become a celebration of the unofficial start of Grilling Season and an excuse to partypartyparty. We now see it as our duty to drink beer until we puke, thereby prepping ourselves for the really important patriotic holiday, Independence Day. (By the way, some of you may not realize the Fourth of July IS Independence Day.) That holiday's different. It's when all true Americans buy things we don't need and can't afford, partypartyparty, drink beer until we puke, AND turn our children loose to blow off several minor appendages with easy-to-get illegal fireworks.

But I digress.

Luckily, the conflicts our nation have endured in recent decades
have reminded some of us of the true meaning of the coming holiday: to honor our real heroes -- those who have truly served our nation.

They include the "Greatest Generation, WW2 vets who gave their all, certainly. Those real heroes, however, also include those who didn't fall in battle and survived. They include some of my schoolmates who saw service in Vietnam as their duty. Some didn't return, and some did. The real heroes also are the vets of Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan, whether they've returned or not.

A fallen hero isn't necessarily a serviceman or -woman who died in battle. I keep thinking of a young marine I knew when we were stationed in Puerto Rico during Vietnam. He'd been assigned to the guard company as reward, I guess, after his combat stint. Ashamedly, I can't remember his name. I remember what he did, however.

While standing a "midwatch" (graveyard shift), he put his .45 in his mouth and ended whatever terrible torment he'd brought back.

No one will ever tell me this young man isn't a "fallen" hero. So are the young pilot who was shot down in Iraq and the young corporal whose legs were blown off by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, and the national guardsman whose family is barely making ends meet while he's spending a year posted on the other side of the world. And I include the firefighter who is disabled when a burning building collapses on him, and the patrolman paralyzed by a drunken driver as he stood beside a car he'd just stopped.

Or any of the other countless young men and women through the years who have made extraordinary sacrifices while serving their neighbors.

Too many of these heroes are "fallen," but not in the way we usually think. And while we certainly should honor those who have died in the line of duty, we also should think of, and pray for, those who have "fallen," but live on.

This Memorial Day, think of those who have, and do, protect you. And whose sacrifices, however varied, however menial, allow you to stuff yourself with hotdogs and guzzle beer until you puke, and generally take for granted everything you have and everything you do.

For, if we can remember our fallen heroes, and be thankful for them...

...Well, maybe we can just dance....