A few years ago during this week in May, I boarded a flight from Texas to Washington, DC en route back to my assignment at the Pentagon. I sat down in my “roomy” seat, thanks to an exit row, and waited for the flight attendant to go through the “fasten your seatbelt, air bag, exit row” routine.
Instead, I heard the following, “Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you are enjoying your Memorial Day weekend. We have several military personnel on the flight with us today and to honor them for their service and sacrifice, would you please join me on this Memorial Day and say 'Thanks!' with a round of applause.”
The plane erupted with loud clapping that lasted a few seconds, then it was back to the seatbelt and exit row awareness briefing. As I sat there in my military uniform, I received the applause with mixed emotions. It certainly was a thoughtful gesture, but I also recognized how Memorial Day really wasn't about me or any of my fellow service members, who currently wear a uniform, and it made me think. Maybe the flight attendant was just being naively patriotic, a "hearts in the right place" enthusiasm without being aware of the true purpose of the day.
I landed in DC and, driving to my hotel, listened to the radio. And there it was again, the D.J. was sincerely reminding everyone how special Memorial Day should be to all Americans. He went on to thank our military personnel here in DC and around the world for there service and sacrifice. I could give other examples I heard on that day, each with sincerity, each very much appreciated, but each very misplaced. I wondered to myself, "Do they really understand?"
The thankful words expressed to service men and women currently serving this country missed the true significance of Memorial Day and the respect due to military men and women who gave their life while preserving our freedom. The Memorial Day remembrance should be focused on those who, in President Lincoln’s words, gave the “last full measure.”
The first Memorial day was the result of General Order 11, issued by LTG John A. Logan on May 30, 1868, for the purpose of “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.”
He went on to highlight the sacrifice of those departed but also focus the direction of thanks toward widows and orphans, stating:
“Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.”
He concluded by also noting the day should be used to “honor the memory of departed comrades.”
As General Logan so aptly stated in 1868, today we will also find throughout this great country, in every town and city, the graves of men and women who gave their lives preserving the freedoms we each enjoy.
The American military is like none other in the history of the world, a volunteer force organized to “support and defend the constitution of the United States, against all enemies foreign and domestic.”
It is an obligation that is not taken lightly by any member of the military. An obligation to those that have gone before us to ensure that their sacrifice is not in vain. From Lexington, Gettysburg, San Juan Hill, and the Argonne to Wake Island, Normandy, Inchon, Saigon, Kuwait City, Baghdad, Bagram...millions have served. Our homage on Memorial Day is to those who have gone before and paid the ultimate sacrifice as guardians of freedom. We should show our gratitude to the families, widows, and orphans of those who were casualties of past or current wars: World War II (405,399), Korea (36,574), Vietnam (58,220), Desert Storm (382), Iraq (4,477), and Afghanistan (1,803). We should honor the fallen and their families for their ultimate sacrifice.
May each of us say a prayer or lend a kind word to a mother, father, husband, wife, or child that cannot be with their loved one lost to the tragedy of war. And may we recognize that God has granted our nation blessings unmatched by any other country, while we focus our attention on those intended for honor on this day.
This Memorial Day, may each of us pause during the day to remember those who have fallen, giving their lives to defend a cause greater than themselves, the preservation of freedom.
May God Bless the United States of America.