Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Thoughts on Memorial Day

"Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."
George Washington

Since last Memorial Day much has changed for me.  Shortly after Memorial Day a few years back my dad passed.  He now spends his time at rest at a National Veteran’s Cemetery in Bushnell Florida.  His message on love remains strong in me. I cannot think of a greater example of unconditional love than giving your life in service to your country.  Today is Memorial Day, the day we set aside to remember all those who gave their lives in service to defend freedom.  In our country, we do a great job at building memorials.  When visiting Washington DC, my family and I always make it a point to visit The Vietnam Wall, the WWII Memorial, The Korean Memorial, The War Nurse Memorial and several others which are symbols of our nation’s desire to remember our fallen heroes.

At these hallowed places, we can see and even trace the names of those in uniform who gave their lives in defense of our country.  My cousin resides on panel E18 of the Vietnam Wall. 

Memorial Day is a special holiday.  It’s the single day we honor all those who died in service to our nation but whom we continue to remember and honor in our hearts. 

Instead of seeing stone monuments, or names on a granite wall, many of us see the faces of those who gave their all.

For many years, over the Memorial Day weekend I rode my Harley to Washington DC for Rolling Thunder. It’s an event that hundreds of thousands of military veterans participate in by riding their motorcycles to Washington DC over the Memorial Day weekend.  Several years ago, my best friend, now a retired Army Colonel, my wife and I road our bikes to DC for Rolling Thunder.  My friend had just gotten back from a series of difficult deployments.  He had secured vehicle passes for Arlington National Cemetery.  We road our motorcycles into the cemetery stopping along the way at many of the grave sites.  It was extremely humbling and in many ways, shook me to the bone.  The Rolling Thunder ride that sticks with me the most is the ride my son, my brother in law and I made right after my son returned from an Enduring Freedom deployment.  I remember standing there by our bikes – my brother-in-law a Vietnam Vet, myself a Cold War Vet and my son an Enduring Freedom Iraqi War vet.  We stood there, smoking our fat cigars that we had saved for this moment. It was hard not to think about how lucky each of us were, how proud I was to be standing there with them and how extremely proud I was of my son. Most of all, I was grateful that my son was there as a veteran of war and not a memory of war. 

There have been so many who have sacrificed their lives in the defense of our freedom.  When walking through the many war memorials you see the many young men who perished with their ships in Pearl Harbor.  You see the faces of Navy nurses who, through the many wars and conflicts, provided care amid the chaos.  You see the brave faces of those men and women who died in Vietnam and Korea, whose sacrifices went unrecognized for so many years because they were the face of unpopular conflicts.

On this day, I find myself thinking about the families and friends, people I know, and the ones we set aside this special day to celebrate their legacies.

It seems to me that for a long time, Memorial Day seemed like just another day off work.  For many its opening day of the community pool or the beginning of summer vacation.  Over the last several years there seems to be a collective shift in our thinking, a new awareness of the sacrifices our military members are making has hit home.  Once again Memorial Day is becoming an ingrained part of the American experience.  Maybe it’s the lessons learned from the Vietnam conflict, maybe it’s the shared experience of seeing our young men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or maybe it’s even the many movies and reality TV shows that shed new light on the real sacrifices our service members make.  Or, maybe it’s people like myself who have served after the Vietnam war but are old enough to remember the friends and family lost in that conflict.

Whatever the reasons are, something has changed about the way Americans now think about their heroes. That shift transcends politics, cultural differences and religion.  President Kennedy once said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”  A key component of our nation’s greatness lies in our ability to honor, appreciate, and cherish all those who died to ensure our freedom.

Memorial Day, is our day to say thank you to those generations who have foot the bill; to those who have paid so dearly with their lives.  When you gather today with family and friends think about how you can extend the same reverence you feel today throughout the rest of the year.  Think about how to instill the tradition of this special day in the generations to come?  How do we ensure that Memorial Day continues with the profound reverence it deserves?

The following are three things you can do to ensure Memorial Day continues from generation to generation.
·         First, play a part in teaching others about the sacrifices made so our freedoms and liberties endure.  Help future generations understand that service to our country is among the most noble of endeavors.
·         Second, find ways to ensure the legacies of our heroes endure.  Our heroes are worth more than a 20-second sound-bite on the evening news.  Their history deserves telling and re-telling.
·         Third, continue to gather together to pay homage to our fallen heroes on this special day. 

If you treat Memorial Day as a special day of reverence others will.

Memorial Day is the day we set aside to honor those military members who are gone but will never be forgotten. As a veteran, I have assumed the unspoken duty to remind my friends, family, neighbors, children, and fellow veterans about the actions of our fallen heroes and the sacrifices they have made.  Memorial Day is the day we celebrate the lives and legacies of those we have lost, those we will never forget and those who will always be revered.

You can listen to the audio version of this post at Jeff Heiser Radio Podcast 100.
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