Amid the haze of the BBQ smoke and the sounds of splashing swimming pools, picnics and frivolity, the unofficial beginning of summer comes on Monday, May 29th, observed in the United States as Memorial Day, designated to honor our fallen veterans who have served and died in defending the freedoms we enjoy in the United States.
Much history surrounds the origins of our current Memorial Day observance, primarily the history of the observance called Decoration Day, commonly thought to have originated in Illinois by veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1868, which was celebrated on May 30, because that was a time when flowers were in full bloom and could be used to decorate the graves of Civil War veterans. Alternatively, another story refers to the original Memorial Day term as having been used in the south, by families of Confederate soldiers who died in the war.
Our current Memorial Day was legislated by Congress in 1968 (give or take 100 years since the original observance), and designated as the last Monday in May.
My Month of May Tradition
As has become my personal May tradition over the last few years, I re-watch HBO’s “Band of Brothers” miniseries, which was first broadcast in 2001. The series is based on the book by the same name, written by Stephen Ambrose in 1992. The story chronicles the WWII journey of E (“Easy”) Company, of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Although portions of history are ‘dramatized’ for effect, the story is based on actual events, and depicts the lives of several “Easy” veterans, whose personal interviews are the prologue to each episode. In the final episode, we learn their identities. Although the acting, writing, cinematography and production are excellent, the most significant aspect of the series is the characters themselves. These men were willing to give their lives in defense of their country, surely, but in defense of their brethren, their brothers-in-arms in the battles they faced. Parachuting into Normandy, facing overwhelming forces and extreme cold (along with low supplies, including minimal ammo) in the Ardennes forest, attacking a fortified enemy position at Foy, Belgium and discovering a Nazi concentration camp are all actual experiences faced by the company.
When considering the issues today that seem to ruffle so many feathers, most of those issue pale in comparison to the struggles that were faced by these men of the Greatest Generation- real life-and-death stuff. They were wounded, and begged to return to the line. They had little food, but shared what they had with whomever was in their foxhole. They were lost from their companies and partnered with the first American soldier they could find, to try to stay alive. One of their company was lost in a fight from which “Easy” was forced to retreat, and a small group takes it upon themselves to return under cover of darkness (unauthorized by the CO) to search for their brother.
So is it really newsworthy to discuss what the President’s wife wears to a particular event? Is it really distressing that one’s favorite choice to win a “reality” TV show lost the voting? Why make the effort to write a rude comment to someone else’s inane posting on social media?
How far removed we are from days of wartime rationing, from rallies hosting wounded veterans to sell war bonds to support the war effort, and from the inability to immediately communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world.
Today’s war is fought with government money (from our tax dollars), by volunteers in mountains and in areas where the enemy can be around every corner. These days, for us in this country as we see our men and women in armed service, the war on terrorism and the battles against evil dictatorships are so pervasive in the 24-hour news cycle, we’re all a little numb to it. Just because today’s fighting men and women are serving in isolated areas (compared to the Pacific and European theatres of WWII) their sacrifice is no less significant than the sacrifices made by those who’ve served in any past conflict or war that defended freedom. Let us always remember and honor those who serve, and memorialize those who have served and died.
National Moment of Remembrance
Monday, May 29th, is also the The National Moment of Remembrance, as established by Congress, which asks Americans, wherever they are at 3 p.m., local time, on Memorial Day, to pause in an act of national unity for a duration of one minute. I urge you, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, to take just one minute to thank God for our fallen warriors who have given their lives for this country, and to encourage others around you to do the same.
The Gospel of John, chapter 15, verse 13, records that Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That’s one of the reasons I watch Band of Brothers every year, because these men lived this out- they were willing to die for their friends, their brothers, and for those of us who now benefit from their heroism and their sacrifices. For me, this brings some perspective, when considering what I am willing to sacrifice, and what issues are of real importance to me, as might benefit the good, for my brothers… my friends.
Enjoy Memorial Day, celebrate, barbecue, enjoy the company of family and friends. Just make some time to remember, and pray for, those that fought to secure your ability to do those things. May God bless you.
(Personal ramblings of Darin Lawson that most certainly do reflect the views and opinions of this station)