Pausing to Remember Sacrifice
Many people look to Memorial Day weekend as the kick-off for the summer vacation season. The Bay Bridge will be jammed and in Ocean City kids will be squealing while playing in the sand. Families will picnic and visit with each other all across the nation.
We should, however, remind ourselves this freedom we enjoy came at a price.
Memorial Day first started out as Decoration Day. Beginning in 1865 families took the time to decorate the grave markers of those lost during the Civil War. There were plenty of them to mark and almost every family on the east coast was touched in some fashion. Over 620,000 dead in the War Between the States... cemeteries were everywhere.
Think about the impact to society with 620,000 countrymen dead, more total casualties than all other wars fought by our soldiers combined. Not only that, but those deaths were compacted into a short five year period. Roughly one out of every 50 people in the United States was killed as we fought each other. Decoration Day was a way to honor those who died and to heal a divided nation.
Today, the Thursday before Memorial Day, about 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry will place flags at the grave markers in Arlington National Cemetery. They will then patrol the grounds 24/7 through Monday evening, making sure each flag remains in place and upright.
Today many American Legion Posts will decorate the graves of veterans in all the local church cemeteries nationwide, paying homage to our fallen soldiers. It is a beautiful and honorable tradition, to my knowledge exclusive to our country on such a grand and reoccurring scale.
As a boy one of my chores was to help my grandfather tend to our church cemetery. We straightened markers, filled holes, dug up corner markers which had settled over time, and marked graves. Ours is a family church dating back to 1893, so I was instructed in a lot of genealogy as we worked; but, most of all, I was taught honor and respect.
At home my Dad used to fly the flag at half-mast until noon then raise it up the pole for the balance of the day on Memorial Day – because it was proper. Those of his generation lost plenty of friends in World War II. He was a young teen at the time; however, it was something which made an impression on him the balance of his life.
Civil War families and communities were numb with death tolls in 1865. Today most people know comparatively few who have lost their lives in the line of duty. It is the reason we are appalled and are shocked when a battle death comes to a distant friend or neighbor. It is why we many times have whole communities honor the sacrifice, rather than just privately paying homage as a family.
Memorial Day is known as a national day of remembrance. It should be a national day of thanks. Those who died paid the ultimate price for our country. In 2000 the National Moment Remembrance Act was passed. It asks American citizens to pause at 3 P.M. on Memorial Day "to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps."
One moment in a year is a small sacrifice for an individual citizen. Think about it... most of us would do anything for our children; perhaps we would even sacrifice material goods for our extended families, or for our church. But few would choose to sacrifice for an entity... other than our country.
Everyone complains about paying taxes. Water cooler talk always rambles toward the distain for the inefficiencies of government. We constantly bemoan regulation – or zoning – or increasing of tolls, yet we love our country enough to send our sons and daughters out of our homes to potentially sacrifice their lives.
It's because we have a love-hate relationship with our way of life. We hate the government bureaucracy, yet we love our country. We have pride in our nation. It is our common bond. We enjoy the celebration of our country and the values we hold near and dear... and are willing to sacrifice for those values.
Most of us have lost a loved one or know of someone who died in combat serving their country. This Monday while at the beach, or tending your barbeque, take a moment, around 3 P.M. to think about what sacrifice really means.