This is Memorial Day weekend. A time for us to remember and honor the fallen. More specifically, those military men and women who went off to war and never came back.
Every sales ad and event planner has helped turn Memorial Day into a day for barbecues and brewskis when, like many holidays, Memorial Day is better observed than celebrated.
I, myself, have known many people who served in the military, but I don’t know anyone who has died while serving. But it still feels wrong to start blasting Kid Rock songs while throwing down brats knowing that in all likelihood, someone in my neighborhood is thinking of a loved one they lost.
I imagine what makes Memorial Day even harder for some is we all understand when someone signs up for the military, there’s at least a chance they’ll one day be sent somewhere dangerous and may not come back. But just because we understand that risk intellectually doesn’t mean our hearts understand it emotionally when they don’t come back.
It’d also feel wrong to co-opt the holiday to memorialize people I know who died in other circumstances. There are 364 other days of the year to recognize and mourn their deaths — why take this day away from others?
So while I can’t personally name anyone who I’ve known who died at war, I can listen to others who have known people who have died. I can read and listen to the stories of those who served. I can try to understand the whys and hows behind their experiences. And I can do what’s within my power to honor those sacrifices by being the best American I can be.
It’d be nice if we could all set down the hot dogs and apple beer for 30 minutes during this three-day weekend and listen to those stories for a bit.
Maybe we’ll start to appreciate the sacrifices these men and women have made throughout our country’s history and the weight of that sacrifice will inspire us to be better somehow.
Whether it was the youth who lied about their age so they could help fight in the Revolutionary War, or those who were drafted to fight in Vietnam and fulfilled their duties, or soldiers who fell on tossed grenades in the Middle East so their fellow soldiers could come home safely, every story has a lesson to share.
Even the stories of people who helped support the troops at home have inspiring stories.
People who purposefully went without during the World Wars so more material could be used to fill the needs of those fighting abroad. People who built victory gardens so we could send more food to the war front.
The way people sacrificed for this country while their loved ones were away already dying or dead is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
I like reading these stories of men and women coming together to help support either their troops away from home, or their fellow troops while on the battlefield because I see so little willingness to do so now from people.
Do you think Americans were debating the definition of “acceptable loss” when they were asked to find ways to go without rubber, aluminum and gasoline during WWII? Do you think they worried much about how soldiers going off to fight might cause their 401(k)s to dip for the next few years?
No, they weren’t a bunch of Karens and Kevins.
They handled their business and joined together to make things work while the soldiers handled their business punching Nazis in the face.
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
The point is, the founding and defending of this country has come at a great cost to both soldiers and citizens alike. For some people, that cost mostly takes the form of tax dollars that we pay to help fund the military’s efforts, essentially a non-sacrifice in reality. For people like my friends, it cost them the years of their lives that they dedicated to serving. And for others still, it cost them their lives.
It’s important to recognize that those soldiers, who sacrificed more than anyone else, deserve respect that goes beyond a flag shirt and a hot dog. They deserve a reverence beyond sweet deals on a new grill.
They deserve to have people honor their memories by being good citizens in both action and thought. They deserve to leave having known that their fellow Americans would look out for one another and make an effort to take care of each other, even if they can’t anymore.
So this weekend, please go out of your way in some small fashion to hear their stories.
Remember them, and honor them in how you live.
They deserve at least that much.